In a Remote Alaskan Town, a Centuries-Old Russian Faith Thrives

Residents of Nikolaevsk remain true to the traditions of their ancestors, who fled religious persecution in the 17th-century

Inside the Church of Saint Nicholas, Father Nikolai Yakunin blesses parishioners during Pascha (Russian Easter), which begins at midnight and ends at dawn. The smoke of the incense is said to lift prayers to heaven. Andrea Santolaya
Children paint eggs and women sew dresses to prepare for the holiday. Andrea Santolaya
The shawls, or platki, and long dresses, or sarafans, that women wear to early morning Mass will be replaced with brighter, more colorful clothing as the day progresses. Andrea Santolaya
Elizabeth Fefelov, 13, is one of Nikolaevsk’s younger generation of Old Believers. Few speak Russian, and even fewer read Slavonic, the language used during Mass. Liturgies will soon be conducted in English. Andrea Santolaya
Efrosinia Yakunin stands with her daughter Tamara during an evening ceremony that lasted until 4:30 am. Andrea Santolaya
Children embark on an Easter egg hunt. Andrea Santolaya

In 1968 five families settled in Nikolaevsk on the Kenai Peninsula. They belonged to a religious group known as the Old Believers—a sect that split from the Russian Orthodox Church in 1666 in opposition of state-ordered reforms. Their ancestors fled persecution to Siberia, China, Brazil, Oregon, and then Alaska. Today, there are 350 residents in the community. “They started a journey that continues with new generations. They stand true to their tradition,” says Spanish photographer Andrea Santolaya, who documented their celebration of Pascha, Russian Easter, for her ongoing project “Alyeska, The Last Frontier.”

Read Also: Tracing Alaska's Russian Heritage

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