Orthodoxy in Hawaii

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The Main Altar Cross of the Russian Orthodox Church of Hawaii in Honolulu

Orthodox Christianity in Hawaii has a history beginning with the early Russian missions of the 19th century and continuing to the work of multiple Orthodox churches on the various islands that make up the Aloha State.

History of Hawaiian Orthodoxy

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Christianity in Hawaii

The first liturgical Christian service held in Hawaii was a Russian Orthodox Paschal service. Sometime between 1750 - 1793*, while traveling from the Far East to what was then Russian America, a Russian trading ship stopped over in the Hawaiian Islands. The Russian Orthodox priest, not wanting to celebrate Pascha at sea, instructed the captain to disembark. The captain then told the priest that he feared the "natives" but was then told, "They will not harm us, for we are Orthodox, and we bear the Light of Christ to illumine their hearts." They disembarked and blessed a temporary altar under a newly built temple made out of palms and bamboo and adorned with a Znammeny icon of the Mother of God and the Christ Child. It was rumored that as they departed the priest left the icon used in the Paschal Liturgy. The ship's priest promised that, "We shall return and baptize these natives to the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church."

The first Protestant service was a lay funeral service conducted by Capt. James Cook for an English sailor at Napo‘opo‘o (Kealakekua) on the Big Island of Hawaii in 1779.

*Exact dates differ from 1750, 1792, and 1793

First Orthodox Chapels

Russian Fort Elizabeth as it was in 1815 on the Island of Kauai

In 1815, Russians built Hawaii's first Orthodox church; the Russian Orthodox chapel at Fort Elizabeth. On the Island of Kaua'i, three Russian forts were built: Fort Alexander, Fort Barclay, and Fort Elizabeth. Fort Alexander also housed a small Orthodox chapel, but Fort Elizabeth was the trading base for the new Russian-American Company in Hawaii. When King Kaumuali'i of Kaua'i ceded his kingdom to King Kamehameha the Great in 1816 following the tsar's refusal to annex Kaua'i due to political troubles in Russia, the forts were also ceded, and the Hawaiian Islands become one unified kingdom. The chapels ultimately fell into disrepair after Calvinist missionaries from the United States landed in 1820 after the death of King Kamehameha I.

Russian Artist's Sketch of King Kamehameha the Great of Hawaii

In 1882, the Hawaiian Kingdom sent a diplomatic delegation to St. Petersburg, Russia, to witness the coronation of Tsar Alexander III. The reports of the Hawaii's special envoy to the Russian court, Colonel Curtis I'aukea, Secretary of Foreign Affairs for the Kingdom of Hawaii, regarding the Russian Orthodox liturgical services were widely published in Hawaiian-language newspapers. Two years later, Tsar Alexander III sent King Kalakaua the Imperial Order of St. Alexander Nevsky, the highest Russian award, and established a permanent Russian embassy in Hawaii, along with a very small Orthodox chapel. Subsequently, 200 Ukrainians were imported by American sugar planters.

In 1893, Queen Lili'uokalani was deposed by U.S. Marines and American sugar plantation owners, who were mostly the children of American Calvinist missionaries, and a provisional government under the protection of the United States was installed. In 1898, Hawaii was incorporated into the United States despite near universal opposition from native Hawaiians. In the early 1900s, the Russian ambassador to Hawaii was recalled, the embassy was moved to a small office, and the Russian Orthodox chapel was forever closed.

St. Innocent of Moscow also made a brief stop-over in Hawaii during his travels from Asia to Western America.

Rebirth of Orthodoxy

A photo of Fr. Jacob Korchinsky from the Pacific Commercial Advertiser, January 23, 1916

On November 27, 1910 (O.S., the Feast Day of the Znamenny-Kursk Root Icon of the Sign of the Mother of God), reader services were organized and served by Vasily Pasderin.

In 1915, an official request by the Russian Orthodox community in Hawaii and the Episcopal Bishop of Hawaii, Henry B. Restarick to the Holy Synod in St. Petersburg; a priest was dispatched that same year to Hawaii (with the blessing of Archbishop Evdokim (Meschersky) of the Aleutians) to pastor the large population of Orthodox Russian faithful. He establishsed permanent liturgical services in Hawaii and on Christmas December 25 (O.S.) / January 7 (N.S.) 1916, Protopresbyter Jacob Korchinsky celebrated the Divine Liturgy at Saint Andrew's Episcopal Cathedral in Honolulu. Thus Orthodoxy was re-established in Hawaii.

St. Andrew's Episcopal as it appears today in downtown Honolulu

Fr. Jacob, a well-known missionary priest, established churches in Canada, the United States, Alaska, Australia and the Phillipines. He was murdered in Odessa shortly after the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, but has not yet been officially recognized as a martyred saint. St. Tikhon of Moscow once quoted Fr. Jacob's missionary exploits this way, "He did much to convert the heathens to the Christian Faith and returned many Uniates to the Orthodox Church. He set the foundation for parish life in many places, built churches and assisted the unfortunate with his acquied medical knowledge."
(Report by Bishop Tikhon Belavin to the Holy Synod. No. 155 Nov. 26, 1906)

In subsequent years, the Russian Orthodox church in Hawaii shipped or flew priests to Hawaii to care for the dwindling Orthodox population, becoming part of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR). Archimandrite Innokenty Dronov of Hilo, a contemporary of St. Jonah of Manchuria and St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco and Metropolitan Meletius of Harbin, served the entire Orthodox Christian flock on all the Hawaiian Islands throughout the 1930s and 1940s. Fr. Innokenty had a large following of Japanese Orthodox Christians. He frequently returned to the Diocese in San Francisco to report to Archbishops Apollinary (Koshevoy) and Tikhon (Troitsky) and for medical reasons. He is now purportedly buried on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Fr. Innokenty in front of the Old Apostles Episcopal church in Hilo in 1937

Multiple jurisdictions

Up until the 1960s, the Russian Orthodox Church was the only Orthodox jurisdiction in the Hawaiian Islands. Following the 1960s, parishes from three separate Orthodox jurisdictions established themselves in the Islands: Greek, Serbian, and OCA. At one point there were as many as five different Orthodox jurisdictions in the Hawaiian Islands. Despite this multiplicity of jurisdictions, all Orthodox churches in Hawaii are in communion with one another and have friendly relations. (See also: Orthodoxy in America, Diaspora.)

The Russian Orthodox Church (ROCOR)

In the late 1960s, a group of Russian Orthodox Christians parted ways with the local Greek community and joined the Russian Orthodox Church in Hawaii under the Omophorion of Archbishop Anthony of Los Angeles; they formed the St. Mark of Ephesus Russian Orthodox Mission. In the early 1980s, this mission parish was later re-consecrated under the heavenly protection of the Mother of God and is now known as the Holy Theotokos of Iveron Russian Orthodox Church. In the late 1990s, the Council President of the Russian Orthodox community in Hawaii, Anatole Lyovin, was ordained to serve the Orthodox faithful in Hawaii. Currently this parish is without a permanent structure, but there are plans to build the first Russian Orthodox church in Honolulu. The parish was recently blessed with the appearance of a new myrrh-streaming Icon. This Icon, the Myrrh-streaming Hawaiian-Iveron Icon of the Theotokos was recently recognized by the Russian Orthodox Church as genuine. This holy Icon has toured many churches and monasteries of various jurisdictions throughout the country. This community is under the spiritual care of Archbishop +Kyrill (Dmitrieff) of San Francisco (ROCOR).

In the mid to late 1990's, a separate Russian Orthodox mission community was established on the Big Island of Hawaii. It later became inactive.

The Greek Orthodox Church (GOARCH)

In the mid 1960s, a Greek Orthodox community established a Greek Orthodox mission under the auspices of the Greek Archdiocese. This community became known as the Ss. Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church. The current Dean is Fr. John Kuehnle, who was assigned to the parish in Honolulu in 2008. The community is under the omophorion of Metr. Gerasimos (Michaleas) of San Francisco (GOARCH). This community is well-known for its annual Greek Festival held at Ala Moana Beach Park near Waikiki.

In the 1990s,a Greek Orthodox mission was established on the Island of Maui. It later became inactive, but there are efforts underway to revive it. The mission has been served by clergy from Ss. Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Honolulu.

The Serbian Orthodox Church

In the early 1990s, a Serbian community established an Orthodox mission dedicated to St. Lazar of Kosovo. The Serbian mission later became inactive, and its remaining members joined the local Russian and Greek churches. There has been a recent interest within the Serbian Orthodox community in Hawaii to re-establish this mission. In recent months, visiting clergy (including the Serbian Bishop Maxim (Vasilijevic) of Western America) have come from the mainland to minister to them. This is mission is now active and under the spiritual direction of Protopriest Blasko Paraklis.

The Antiochian Orthodox Church

In 2003, the short-lived St. Paul the Apostle Antiochian Orthodox Mission was established in Honolulu at Fort Shafter Army Base. The rector of this mission was Fr. Isaiah Gillette, a chaplain with the military. Following Fr. Isaiah's transfer to Texas, the mission was disbanded.

The Orthodox Church in America (OCA)

Bishop Benjamin visits the OCA Kona Mission in 2004

In early 2004, a new Orthodox community under the jurisdiction of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) was established on the Big Island of Hawai`i, in Kailua-Kona. The pastor of this mission is Fr. John Schroedel, under the oversight of His Grace, Bishop Benjamin (Peterson) of San Francisco of the Diocese of the West.

Parishes in Hawaii

External links


  • Archimandrite Avgustin (Nikitin); "Gavraiskie ostrova i Rossiia (Obzor tserkovnykh sviazei i kontaktov" - (Saint-Petersburg; Minneapolis 2002)
  • Michael Protopopov; "A History of the Russian Orthodox Presence in Australia" - Submitted Thesis
  • Pacific Commercial Advertiser, January 23, 1916