For over a century, it was not known what happened to the monk, Juvenaly. It was one of the mysteries of the Arctic, and the conflicting accounts that emerged over the years did nothing to clarify the actual events or his fate, and in some cases, completely misled those looking for the truth.
Born in 1761 in Nerchinsk, Siberia as John Feodorovich Hovorukhin, he was trained as a mining engineer and served in the Russian army as an officer. He was widowed in 1791, and chose to retreat from the world at the Valaam monastery near St. Petersburg. He was tonsured and given the name Juvenaly. In 1792, when the empress Catherine required monks and priests to travel to the New World to evangelize the native people living there, he was one of those chosen to make the journey.
Along with St. Herman and eight other men, Juvenaly walked most of the way across Russia to the Kamchatka Peninsula, a journey that took them eight months (it takes eight days by train today). There, they boarded a ship and arrived at Kodiak Island in September of 1794.
During their first year in the new world, the monks stayed close to Kodiak and worked on the island, but they were keen to expand the mission. In a letter to Abbot Nazarius written in 1795, St. Herman relates a conversation and a joking argument between Father Macarius and monk Juvenaly about who would travel where. Macarius related that he would travel to the Aleutian islands, then move to the mainland. He wanted to accept the invitation of some of the mainland Alaskans and try to find a rumoured Russian settlement. Fr. Juvenaly asked him not to. He wanted the same area. The two went back and forth in an amicable discussion, but on that day, no decisions were made.
As it worked out, in 1795, Fr. Juvenaly traveled to Nutchek, where he baptized a number of people, and then crossed to the mainland, on the peninsula south of Anchorage, as he had told Father Macarius he would. In 1796, he crossed Cook’s Inlet, to travel further east toward the Bering Sea, but this was the last definitive news that was heard of or from him for over a century.
St. Herman, twenty or thirty years later, reported that rumours of the monk’s death had reached him, but there was nothing substantial or definitive that he could rely on. Even later, St. Innocent, as bishop of the new diocese, heard that Juvenaly had been murdered because he had persuaded newly baptized families to send their children to Kodiak for education and they had changed their minds. The problem with this is that at the time, in 1795 and 1796, there was no school in Kodiak, and furthermore, the monks were united in their conviction that children should not be separated from their parents – so much so that they had written a letter to the Russian America company, threatening to go to the Tsar should the company allow their employees leaving the area to take their children (who had Aleut mothers) back to Siberia.
In the 1880s, an American historian, relying on falsified documents, reported that Juvenaly had been killed near Lake Iliamna, to the east of Cook’s Inlet, for shameful reasons, and for many years, this was accepted as fact. However, the truth began to be understood only in this century.
According to the Yupik people living near the mouth of the Kuskoquim River, in the village of Quinahgak, far east of Lake Iliamna, members of their village had been out hunting with the shaman one day many years ago: about 1796. They encountered two men in a boat that was unlike the ones they used. One of the men was all in black, and the other was obviously a native Alaskan, although probably not Yupik. Something about the man in black alarmed the shaman, and he instructed the hunters to warn off the two men, but neither of the men appeared to understand the shouted words and gestures the hunters used. They came closer and closer. Finally, the shaman instructed his hunters to kill the intruders, and as they shot their arrows at the pair, they noticed that the man in black started waving away flies! Their arrows found their mark, and the man in black fell dead. The other man dove out of the boat and tried to swim away, but he also was killed. The Yupik hunters, who didn’t swim, noted that the man was an excellent swimmer – “like a seal” they reported.
The shaman and the hunters dragged the boat to shore and examined the man’s body. Around his neck, he wore a metal cross, suspended from metal links, very similar to the bone links the shaman wore, which in turn were very much like the metal neck-links worn by Siberian shamans. The shaman removed the cross and tried to do a ceremony of some kind with it, but it wouldn’t work. He tried several times, then tossed the cross aside, and commented that there was a power here he didn’t understand, but to be very careful if they ever encountered another person wearing this kind of thing.
Based on the records we have, the only priest this could have been was Father Juvenaly. Fr. Jakov Netsvetov was the only other priest who came into this area, and he did not arrive until after 1841. The fact that the priest’s unnamed companion could swim, and did not understand the Yupik language, and the fact that they were traveling in a boat the Yupik didn’t recognize as a type they used, all argue that the men came from the Cook Inlet area. The language in that area bears no resemblance to Yupik, and the people there are taught to swim for hunting purposes very early in life.
So why did they kill him? One theory is that he was killed because the shaman thought he was a Siberian shaman, come to magically attack the Yupik – because of the similarities of the linked chain each wore around his neck. And the “waving flies away”? Most probably he was either crossing himself, or blessing his attackers, repeatedly and very quickly.
St. Juvenaly and his companion, whose name is known only to God, are the first martyrs of the new world, even if their sacrifice wasn’t recognized for so long, and they pray for us, the faithful in the New World, as our spiritual parents.
o The Monastic Mission to Kodiak and the First Fruits of the Harvest: St. Herman, St. Peter the Aleut, and others – Tape 1
o The Monastic Mission to Kodiak and the First Fruits of the Harvest: St. Herman, St. Peter the Aleut, and others – Tape 2
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