Akun Island is an island measuring nearly 65 sq. miles, located in the Krenitzin Islands, a subgroup of the Fox Islands, which itself is part of the larger island chain known as the Aleutians. Although basically uninhabited now, during the Russian period of Alaska's history, three separate villages could be found here. The island was visited by Hieromonk Makary, one of the original missionaries to Alaska from Valaam, in the late 1790s, and is the site of one of St. Innocent of Alaska's most remarkable experiences as a missionary to Alaska. Akun Island later became the location of the Chapel of the Dormition of the Mother of God, the first chapel church of the Eastern Aleutian Islands.
The Beginnings of Orthodoxy on Akun
During the Russian period of Alaska's history, three separate villages could be found on Akun Island: Artelnovskoe, Rechesnoe, and Seredninskoe. At some point, the population may have been larger, but at the time of St. Innocent's first enumeration in 1867, the population of the three villages combined was less than 100.
Despite Akun Island's remoteness and smallness in size, the island was visited by Hieromonk Makary, one of the original missionaries to Alaska from Valaam in the late 1790s. However, Fr. Makary lacked a translator, and so was only able to explain the most rudimentary tenets of the Faith while he visited Akun. Fr. Makary did baptize many of the residents. However, the next visit to Akun by an Orthodox priest wouldn't occur until some thirty years later, when St. Innocent would arrive in 1828.
The Angels of Akun
St. Innocent arrived at Akun on June 12, 1828 (O.S.), on a trip from Unalaska to Unimak Island, some 400 miles to the east. This was nearly four years after St. Innocent had first arrived in Alaska. St. Innocent was surprised to note that the people of the island were waiting for him at the shore, dressed in their finest clothing. The islanders greeted him by name, even before he introduced himself to them. When he asked them why they were waiting for him and how they knew his name, he was told that their shaman had informed them of his coming. St. Innocent thought this strange, but as he went about his work on the island, he put the incident out of his mind. However, as the days progressed, it came to his attention that one of the elders of the island, who had diligently come to services, and had prepared for and received Holy Communion, was unhappy with him. St. Innocent, wishing to avoid all misunderstandings, called to meet the man, known as Ivan Smirennikov.
The meeting took place, and Smirennikov expressed dissatisfaction that St. Innocent hadn't asked why the islanders called him a shaman, even though the title bothered Smirennikov. As it turns out, Smirennikov had been baptized by Hieromonk Makary, and after his departure, he told St. Innocent, he had continually been visited almost daily for thirty years by two bright figures, who taught him in the ways of the faith. He, in turn, shared this with the rest of the village. These figures would also sometimes tell him things that were going to happen, which is how the islanders knew that St. Innocent would be arriving and his name. St. Innocent was first curious to meet these two, and he asked Smirennikov if he could meet them as well, and while Smirennikov went to ask if this was permissable, St. Innocent thought the better of it, reasoning that there was no way that demons would spend thirty years instructing someone on matters of the Faith. Furthermore, he considered himself unworthy to come into the presence of these spirits, and that Smirennikov had demonstrated enough to him for him alone that he did not need to meet these spirits to believe.
Before leaving Akun, St. Innocent wrote all these things down, and had them attested to, in writing, by Smirennikov and by his translator, a man by the name of Ivan Pankov (Pan'kov). Also, he instructed the Akun islanders to no longer call Smirennikov a shaman. He then sent a copy of his experiences and Smirennikov's testimony to his bishop, Bishop Michael (Byrudov) of Irkutsk. A reply was eventually received; blessing St. Innocent to go and meet the spirits, should they still be appearing to Ivan Smirennikov on St. Innocent's next visit to Akun. Unfortunately, by the time St. Innocent visited Akun again, Smirennikov had died, and the spirits appeared to no one else.
Chapel of the Dormition of the Mother of God
A chapel church was built on Akun Island in 1843. The chapel was built by Ivan Pankov, who had travelled with and translated for St. Innocent and associates. In 1844, the chapel was consecrated by Fr. Gregory Golovin, the priest who succeeded St. Innocent at Holy Ascension Church in Unalaska. This was the first chapel church to be built in the Eastern Aleutian islands. Little is known beyond this; by 1878, a mere eleven years after St. Innocent's first count, the island's population had shrunk to just over 50 and continued to decline until the island was, for all practical purposes, uninhabited. This chapel was not even listed on the Russian Orthodox Church Sites in Alaska Survey done in the 1970s, which was an attempt to document all historic, current, and former sites of Russian Orthodox Churches in Alaska.
- Alaska Guide - Akun Island
- AlaskaWiki - Akun Island
- The Angels of Akun Road to Emmaus; vol. 29
- Akun Diary Road to Emmaus; vol. 29
- Lost Villages of the Eastern Aleutians; Hudson, Ray & Rachel Mason; (ISBN 9780985394875)
- The Shaman and the Saint Cooke, Bev; The Sounding (OCN.net); May 13, 2014
- Alaska Digital Archive scan of St. Innocent's letter to Bishop Michael (Byrudov)