About St. Innocent
St. Innocent is the patron of our publishing company due to his remarkable accomplishments as a missionary who labored for many years in North America. His spiritual zeal to minster to people who knew little about Orthodox Christianity spurred him to both write spiritual tracts and to translate scripture, services and prayers into several native languages. By his prayers, may the Grace of the Holy Spirit guide and inspire our labors!
The future St. Innocent was born Ioann Popov on August 26, 1797 in a village in Russian Siberia, Agna. His father died when he was just nine years old, so Ioann left his mother and three siblings to live with his uncle in the commercial capital of the region, Irkutsk. In Irkutsk he was given a scholarship to the diocesan seminary, where he would study for the next decade.
The greatest spiritual treasure in Siberia were the relics of St. Innokentii (Kulchitskii), which lay in Voznesenskii Monastery, near the seminary. St. Innokentii had been consecrated bishop in order to serve the Russian mission in Peking, but when he was refused entry into China, he turned his attention to those living in and around Irkutsk. In the course of nine years, he labored to convert the Buriats and Mongols; he reposed in 1731. He was glorified as a saint in 1804, shortly before young Ioann began seminary. This spiritual giant so impressed the young seminarian, that he named his first son in his honor and, when he became a monk years later, he asked to be tonsured with the name Innokentii (Innocent in English).
Beyond the expected theological subjects acquired in seminary, at this same time Ioann also learned carpentry and even clock-making, skills which would be invaluable later in life. By 1821, he had finished seminary, married, been ordained first deacon and then priest and acquired a new last name: Veniaminov. The ruling hierarch of Irkutsk in his youth had been Bishop Veniamin (Bagrianskii), who reposed in 1814. His successor, Bishop Michael (Burdukov) ordained Ioann and gave him the family name by which we know him, revealing the great affection of a bishop for a young, orphaned seminarian.
Fr. Ioann served in a parish in Irkutsk for several years. It was there that he first demonstrated the importance he placed on Christian education: he held classes for children (and their parents) every Sunday morning before the start of liturgy. This was highly unusual at the time, something that his fellow clergy thought unnecessary.
When Bishop Michael sought a priest to move to Unalaska in the Aleutian Islands, Fr. Ioann ignored the offer, just like every other priest in the diocese. However, Fr. Ioann changed his mind after hearing of the Aleuts’ love of prayer and listening to the Word of God. The Holy Spirit had inflamed his heart, so despite his wife’s reluctance, on May 7, 1823 the young priest and his family began the 2,200 mile journey to Unalaska. Spending sixteen months on the road, they arrived on Unalaska at the end of July, 1824. During the journey, Fr. Ioann had begun to learn Aleut and had taught classes in the Orthodox faith whenever possible.
Fr. Ioann soon put his carpentry skills to work and built a proper church on the island. His strong and hardy character could meet the demands of his parishioners, spread as they were across 400+ miles of islands and multiple settlements. His more than 1,700 parishioners were in desperate need of the services of a priest, since none had been assigned to them for more than 25 years and almost 85% of them were Aleuts who understood some Russian, but struggled with the services in Church Slavonic. Not dismayed at the task at hand, Fr. Ioann created an alphabet for Aleut and translated a short catechism and the Gospel of St. Matthew. It was these Aleuts for whom he wrote his famous work, An Indication of the Way into the Kingdom of Heaven, which was later translated into Russian, English and many other languages.
In 1834, Fr. Ioann was reassigned to the capital of Russian America, Sitka. His family had grown: there were now six children and the two oldest had returned to Irkutsk to attend school. But Fr. Ioann’s labors continued as always, full of education, travel and translation. The Tlingit Indians were now his neighbors and though they did not rush to convert, his work planted the seeds which led almost the entire tribe to eventually convert after the sale of Alaska to America.
In 1838, Fr. Ioann’s repeated request to return to Irkutsk was approved. His family began the long journey back across Siberia, while he sailed around the globe to visit St. Petersburg on the way home. He hoped to advise the Most Holy Synod on church affairs in Russian America and to supervise printing of his translations into Aleut.
Fr. Ioann met the leading figures of the Russian Church of his day, from the Ober-Procurator of the Most Holy Synod, Count Nikolai Protasov, to the spiritual leader of the Russian Church, Metropolitan Filaret (Drozdov). He presented his scientific treatise, Notes on the Islands of the Unalaska District, to the Russian Academy of Science in St. Petersburg and socialized with the leading Russian families in Moscow and elsewhere, securing financial support for the Church in Alaska.
Providence then changed the trajectory of Fr. Ioann’s life. His wife and youngest son died in 1839. He yearned to return to Irkutsk to care for his family; Met. Filaret urged him to become a monk and to return to Alaska as a bishop. Fr. Ioann sought spiritual comfort and guidance at Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra and the Kiev Monastery of the Caves. Eventually, appropriate guardians and financial support for his family were found, making it easier for Fr. Ioann to choose to become a monk. He was tonsured with the name Innocent, in honor of St. Innokentii of Irkutsk and assigned to become the head of the newly-created diocese of Kamchatka, the Kurile and Aleutian Islands. Archimandrite Innocent became a bishop in Kazan Cathedral in St. Petersburg on December 15, 1840.
Nine months later, Bishop Innocent arrived in his new diocese and set in action his plans to aid the local church. He established an ecclesiastical school in Irkutsk, urged every parish to start a school, and increased the number of clergy. Missionary work received special attention. In his far-flung diocese, many communities only had chapels with services led by laymen. St. Innocent assigned missionaries to travel among those parishes, as did he himself. He established a Translation Committee within the diocese, which was later expanded to include Yakutia. The diocesan printing press in Yakutsk printed works in Yakut, Tungus, Yukagir and Chukchi, among others. Raised to the rank of archbishop in 1850, his see soon included two vicar bishops, one in Yakutia and another in Alaska, which became American territory in 1867.
In 1866, Archbishop Innocent requested retirement from the Most Holy Synod. The next year brought the death of his mentor, friend and patron, Metropolitan Filaret; instead of retirement, St. Innocent was called to Moscow to lead the Russian Orthodox Church as Metropolitan of Moscow and Kolomna.
While his activities as metropolitan were far-reaching, his interest in missionary work never waned. In 1870 he presided at the founding of the Orthodox Missionary Society, which gathered funds to support churches, school, hospitals and publishing efforts both within and beyond the confines of the Russian Empire. This organization survived well after St. Innocent’s repose on Holy Saturday, March 31, 1879.
Buried at Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Monastery, St. Innocent’s relics still reside there, as a comfort to the faithful and inspiration to Orthodox missionaries worldwide. He was glorified by the Russian Orthodox Church on October 6, 1977. His memory is kept that day, as well as the day of his repose and October 5, the Synaxis of the Hierarchs of Moscow.
Prayer to St. Innocent
O good pastor and wise teacher, example of virtue to all who wish to live piously, O holy hierarch, our father Innocent! As a child runs to his father, we run to thee, and, remembering thy love to people, we pray to thee, be thou an indestructible shield of the Holy Orthodox Church and of our homeland, adorn our bishops with hierarchical splendor and wisdom, grant our priests zeal in their service, confirm our monastics in their obedience to the struggle of a good life, grant Orthodox Christians the mind to keep the Holy Faith pure, and calm the whole world by thy mediations. Our fervent intercessor, hierarch of All-Russia, enlightener of Siberia and America, envelope us, who dwell in sorrows, with thy blessing from on High and grant comfort and deliverance from both spiritual and physical ailments; ask for us from above the spirit of meekness, chastity, humility, patience and love, that we may live the remainder of our lives in faith and repentance and in the eternal life gratefully praise Him who glorified thee, the Lord – the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the Trinity one in essence and undivided, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.