The Russian company, which was exploiting the Aleutian islands of Alaska and their people, would gladly have wiped out the Orthodox missionaries who were working there. Filled with Christian compassion, the monks of the Russian Orthodox mission saw it as their duty to try to help the native Aleuts. Although this was in the company's own interest, its wicked men refused to see this. They were brutal toward the native Americans and careless with their lives.
If the company could not rid itself of missionaries, it could thwart their work. When the mission's bishop was shipwrecked, the company manager seized the opportunity to cause trouble. Hieromonk (Abbot) Gedeon described these problems in a confidential letter written on this day, June 2, 1805, to the head of the Russian church, Metropolitan Amvrosii:
"...the manager Baranov...in a letter to the steward of the religious mission...forbade the clergy to have any contact with the Americans and ordered all those who were on close terms with the preachers to be driven off."
The monks defied these wicked orders and continued to support the Aleuts. When the company ordered the natives to go on a long hunting expedition that would destroy them, the Aleuts refused and prepared to die at once. Their families had already been ruined by previous expeditions and starvation. The monks placed them under oath to the Tsar, which by law should have given them political protection.
However, Baranov shouted and cursed. He threatened to beat the monks or board them up inside their mission so that they would starve. For more than a year, the frightened monks had to conduct religious services in their house, not daring to even go to church. As for the poor Aleuts, the company's hunters committed "angry, violent and shameful acts against the islanders, too shameful to mention."
When confronted with their deeds, Baranov excused them, saying he had word of a plot to kill all the hunters. As for the drunken hunters, they merely laughed when reminded that what they were doing was immoral and against the law. "God is high and the Tsar is far away..." they sneered.
Gedeon recounted many more details of the company's behavior. There was a threat to hang one monk or set him adrift on the sea, attempts to confiscate their winter supplies, a threat to smash the church bell. The monks were made to bow before a rudder as if it were a crucifix.
Hieromonk Gedeon's letters to the Metropolitan and to a representative from the Tsar's had a good effect. For a while, conditions improved. Gedeon opened a school to train the Aleuts. However, after the Tsar's representative left Alaska, Gedeon left, too. He knew that the hunters would begin their bad behavior again and could not bear to be a witness to the way they would treat the Aleuts and the monks.
- Pierce, Richard A., editor and Bearne, Colin, translator. The Russian Orthodox Religious Mission in America 1794-1837; with materials concerning the life and works of the Monk German and ethnographic notes by Hieromonk Gedeon. Kingston, Ontario: Limestone Press, 1978.
Last updated July, 2007