The suitcase of Igumen Nikolai, who traveled to the Kenai Peninsula in the late 1800s, is seen here on display at the Kenai Visitor and Cultural Center on Sept. 4, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

The suitcase of Igumen Nikolai, who traveled to the Kenai Peninsula in the late 1800s, is seen here on display at the Kenai Visitor and Cultural Center on Sept. 4, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

Church shows off 125 years of history

Relics from the Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary Orthodox Church will be displayed for two months

Works of art and historical relics from the Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary Orthodox Church in Old Town Kenai will be on display for the next two months as part of a celebration of the church’s 125th anniversary.

Members of the church gathered at the Kenai Visitor and Cultural Center on Friday evening for a small opening reception of the historical gallery. Attendees enjoyed piroshki and honey cake catered by The Hearth Eatery, while admiring the priest’s vestments, banners, paintings and other artifacts.

One of the more notable items was a large, ornate Bible that belonged to Igumen Nikolai, the Orthodox priest who traveled from Russia to the Kenai Peninsula in the late 1800s and founded the church in 1895. Also on display were the marriage crowns worn by Nikolai and his wife.

Peter Sonday, one of the members of the church, said that the Bible was written in Slavonic.

“It’s like an older style of Russian,” Sonday said. “Russians don’t speak it anymore but we still use it in the church.”

The church itself is included in the National Register of Historic Places and, along with the Saint Nicholas Memorial Chapel, the rectory, the cemetery and Fort Kenay, is considered a National Historic Landmark — one of only 50 in the state of Alaska.

Renovations are currently underway at the church, which secured funds from the organization Russian Orthodox Sacred Sites in Alaska (ROSSIA) to replace the roof as well as install new cupolas and crosses. Dorothy Gray, who has lived in Kenai for the last 42 years and is the treasurer of ROSSIA, said the project is going well, with “phase two” of the project set to begin soon.

Father Peter Tobias, who joined the congregation earlier this summer, spoke briefly about the church’s anniversary that evening, along with Gray and Sheri Buretta, a ROSSIA Board Member who came from Anchorage to attend the event.

“What you have on display here are some beautiful, historic items,” Tobias said. “But also items that represent over 125 years of ministry of Christ’s gospel in the area, and the impact that has had on people’s live’s here.”

Reach reporter Brian Mazurek at bmazurek@peninsulaclarion.com.

An antique brass samovar is seen here on display at the Kenai Visitor and Cultural Center on Sept. 4, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

An antique brass samovar is seen here on display at the Kenai Visitor and Cultural Center on Sept. 4, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

A diorama of the Church of the Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary is seen here on display at the Kenai Visitor and Cultural Center on Sept. 4, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

A diorama of the Church of the Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary is seen here on display at the Kenai Visitor and Cultural Center on Sept. 4, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

The original Bible and marriage crowns of Igumen Nikolai, who traveled to the Kenai Peninsula in the late 1800s, are seen here on display at the Kenai Visitor and Cultural Center on Sept. 4, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

The original Bible and marriage crowns of Igumen Nikolai, who traveled to the Kenai Peninsula in the late 1800s, are seen here on display at the Kenai Visitor and Cultural Center on Sept. 4, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

Sheri Buretta, the chairman of the board of the Chugach Alaska Corporation, presents a gift to Dorothy Gray, a lifelong member of the Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary Russian Orthodox Church, during a celebration of the 125th anniversary of the church at the Kenai Visitor and Cultural Center on Sept. 4, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

Sheri Buretta, the chairman of the board of the Chugach Alaska Corporation, presents a gift to Dorothy Gray, a lifelong member of the Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary Russian Orthodox Church, during a celebration of the 125th anniversary of the church at the Kenai Visitor and Cultural Center on Sept. 4, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

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