Kwethluk, Alaska

Kwethluk, Alaska

You will not know these two women; they will never be elected for positions of power or government, and they live simply and in ways many of us have never experienced. However, they are those ‘of whom the world is not worthy,’ as described in Hebrews. The woman on the right (slightly out of focus) is Agnes Michael, the daughter of Blessed Saint Olga of Kwethluk, Alaska (whose glorification is imminent). I will share more about the extraordinary Agnes in a later entry for the film. In this photo Agnes and another Yupik elder are listening to me share a story from life.

The real story however is about the reason we were gathered in the first place. Earlier that day, I asked Fr Martin, the choir director for the parish in Kwethluk (about 400 miles into remote Alaska from Anchorage), if he would be willing to gather a few people from the community to sing their Orthodox hymns in Yupik, and, specifically, to sing hymns about creation. I told him that I wanted to make a soundtrack which would accompany the film when it is released and which would represent Orthodox church songs from around the world in all the places the film goes to. I feel that our Orthodox musical heritage is as diverse as the people and histories and local customs that comprise this remarkable Church mosaic we are part of. However, I have never seen anyone go around the world and record these various music styles and languages and compile them into one soundtrack! So that is what we are doing while we make this film!

Fr Martin was so excited about this idea that he asked the whole choir to come later that evening and sing for our cameras and mic their most precious hymns in the Yupik language – in fact the hymns themselves were translated into Yupik by St Innocent of Alaska over two hundred years ago, and Fr Martin, who is, himself, an extraordinary composer, set many of these Yupik church hymns into his own traditional settings. The event itself will forever stay in my mind – imagine twenty Yupik Orthodox elders singing joyfully and powerfully their most precious music. They sang with pride and love, and we captured it all on camera. Afterward, Fr martin thanked us because he said that these hymns, and the singing of them, are endangered because the elders who know the music are slowly dying and the youth are not taking them up. We ended up making a real archival contribution to our world’s heritage just by filming them!

And always, these two holy faces shone with the deep joy of their church, their creator, and with the Face of God they have grown up knowing and loving in their daily lives in the high tundra of arctic Alaska.

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