Innocent Shayashnikov

Fr. Innocent Kassianov Shayashnikov (also rendered Innokenty Shaishnikoff, Innokentii Shaiashnikov); Russian: Иннокентий Шаяшников/Иннокентій Шаяшниковъ (b. July 1824, St. Paul Island, Alaska-April 26, 1883) was a priest of the Russian Mission to Alaska in the 1800s. Born of a Russian father and Aleut (Unangax̂) mother, he served as an assistant to St. Jacob (Netsvetov) before becoming one of the first Native Alaskan priests to be ordained. He served the area of Alaska's Aleutian islands for 35 years and translating numerous Church texts into the Eastern Dialect of the Aleut language, including the entirity of the four Gospels and the Book of Acts.

Early Life

Fr. Shayashnikov was born on St. Paul Island in 1824, the son of Kassian Shayashnikov, a Russian who was manager of sealing operations on St. Paul Island and an Aleut mother.

Ministry

Fr. Shayashnikov was encouraged by his father to enter the ministry, and became an assistant to St. Jacob (Netsvetov), accompanying him, along with a deacon by the name of Constantin Lukin to the Kvikhpak at Ikogmiut (now Russian Mission) in 1844. He married a woman by the name of Maria Alexseev, originally from Unalaska, before being ordained to the priesthood in Sitka in 1848.

Fr. Shayashnikov returned to the Eastern Aleutians to serve the parishes there (such as St. Nicholas Chapel in Biorka) as well as the Pribilof Islands (St. George Island & St. Paul Island). Many of these churches were so remote that even getting to them could be extremely dangerous, and therefore could only be visited occasionally (often on a yearly basis). Nevertheless, he seemed to be a dedicated and effective priest, not just ministering to the faithful, but training sub-clergy, and overseeing the school which had been founded by Innocent of Alaska. He also helped in the construction of chapels and churches, and received permission to rebuild Holy Ascension Church in Unalaska after the harsh Alaskan weather had taken its toll on the original, which had been constructed under the direction of St. Innocent. (The project would be begun in 1853, but the church would not be completed and consecrated until 1858.) In recognition of his zeal for the ministry, he received the Order of St. Anne a mere four years after being ordained a priest.

In the tradition of St. Innocent and St. Jacob, Fr. Shayashnikov worked tirelessly to bring the Word of Christ to the Native Alaskan people. As head of the school, (and with the assistance of his wife, Maria, taught language arts there for fifteen years), the literacy of the Aleut people increased tremendously, especially considering that it hadn't been all that long since Aleut was only a spoken language. Fr. Shayashnikov translated numerous Church texts into his Eastern Dialect of Aleut (Unangam tunuu), most notably all four Gospels, the Book of Acts, and the Russian "Short Rule for a Pious Life". Unfortunately, many of these texts were not published until many years after Fr. Shayashnikov's death.

National Park Service documents describing Holy Ascension Church's history note that Fr. Shayashnikov was also a talented carpenter and musician. His record-keeping, both civil and church-related, have given researchers invaluable information about life in the Aleutian islands during his tenure there.

Fr. Shayashnikov reposed in 1883, having served as priest to the Aleutians for 35 years. He is buried at the Holy Ascension Cathedral Churchyard in Unalaska.

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