Rev. Simeon Johnson, rector of St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church in downtown Juneau, celebrates orthodox Easter, or Pascha, with his congregation on Sunday, May 2, 2021. (Dana Zigmund/Juneau Empire)

After a missed year, historic church celebrates

Parishioners gather in Juneau, Livestream to villages

On Sunday afternoon, parishioners at St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church in downtown Juneau gathered to celebrate Pascha together, a welcome return to the in-person celebration of the holy day after the pandemic restricted many in-person church services across the country last spring.

As the oldest, continual use Orthodox structure in Southeast Alaska, many celebrations and holidays have taken place in the distinct, domed building over the last 127 years.

According to the Rev. Simeon Johnson, parish rector, Pascha — or Easter services — have been held there every year since the temple’s construction in 1894.

“To the best of my knowledge, 2020 was the only year that services were not open to the public. We had services last year as well, but they were restricted by diocesan policy to the priest and his household due to the small size of Juneau’s space,” Johnson said in an email Monday.

Johnson said that from 1913 to 1940, the Rev. Andrew Kashevaroff, namesake of the Alaska State Museum and Archive building, served as rector of the church. After his long tenure, there were times when the parish did not have a full-time priest. In those circumstances, the Diocese of Alaska sent a supply priest to celebrate Paschal, Johnson said.

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Supporting villages

While parishioners in Juneau can gather, services were also livestreamed over the internet to support local villages.

“I was reassigned to Juneau by Archbishop David to reestablish some liturgical continuity in Juneau and to assist the parishes in Hoonah and Angoon, as possible. COVID travel restrictions have made that challenging, and live-streaming was established to help Juneau support our villages,” Johnson said.

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About the church

According to the church’s website, “St. Nicholas Orthodox Church was founded in 1893, at the request of the local Tlingit community. Constructed locally by Tlingit people and Serbian miners in 1893-94, the church was built on land donated by Yees Ganalax and using plans and funds sent from Russia. Furnished, decorated, and outfitted by generous gifts from the Russian Mission Society, the church was consecrated by Bishop Nikolai (Ziorov) in 1894, and the church has been a fixture of the Juneau community and landscape ever since.”

• Contact reporter Dana Zigmund at dana.zigmund@juneauempire.com or 907-308-4891.

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