Fort Ross

Archbishop NIKON (Rklitsky)

"Our homeland represents the embodiment of the Gospel in the national character and national existence, as well as embodiment of the Heavenly Kingdom; our Russia is not only a legal entity or a state, no – it is a universal, all-encompassing idea." – so said the great hierarch of the Russian land, the most blessed Metropolitan Anthony on 5 October, 1904, on the day of the four saints of Moscow, warning Russia about the coming hardships.

These four saints – Peter, Alexei, Jonah and Phillip – were the spiritual creators of Russian history. And, if we carefully study the Russian historical processes we will be able to observe that at all stages in the life of Russia there were humble elders, bright geniuses of Russia, creators of Russian history.

From the depth of past centuries we can also glimpse such personages as the very gifted Metropolitan Makary, the father of Russia as a great world state, who inspired Ivan the Terrible towards all the best and grand that the latter accomplished during his reign, and with him his fellow struggler protopriest Sylvester of Blagoveshchensk and the glorious memorial created by them celebrating the conquest of Kazan – the church of Blessed Basil which, in its architectural magnificence embodies the program of Russian statehood. Here we can see also the great Patriarch Nikon who gave to the Russian Church world status, inspirer of the union of Russia with the Ukraine, a genius who was misunderstood and unappreciated by his compatriots.

These thoughts about our great homeland, at present enslaved by a legion of demons, coursed in our minds on May 30, on Memorial Day, on the peaceful shore of the Pacific Ocean, 120 miles from San Francisco, at Fort Ross, in a small church built from redwood trees that do not rot, as we listened intensely to the sacred words of the memorial service for the founders and inhabitants of Fort Ross and to the inspired speech dedicated to them and to our Fatherland given by our first hierarch Vladyka Metropolitan Anastasy.

Fort Ross existed for 30 years from 1811 to 1841. The founding of Fort Ross goes back to the time of the war against Napoleon. At that time Pacific Ocean represented an almost insurmountable hurdle, but here, a handful of people from the other side of the world acquired a small piece of land on the shore of the ocean, and here, during the span of 30 years, it established Russian culture holding high the Russian flag.

In 1806 the Russian American Fur Trading Company which was situated in Sitka, Alaska, began experiencing an acute lack of foodstuffs, and one of its senior employees, N. Rezanov, sailed with a small crew on board ship "Yunosha" for California in order to procure some provisions. The description of his journey given in an article by A. Sedykh which was published in the Commemorative Compendium commemorating the 200 years of the discovery of Alaska is quite interesting. (From that same article we are also citing later information about Fort Ross.) Following Rezanov’s journey, on the ship "Kodiak" Ivan Aleksandrovich Kuskov was sent in 1808 from Alaska to California having been entrusted with the task of establishing a colony on the shores of California. During the course of four years I.A. Kuskov traveled three times to California by sea and each time he encountered very much animosity on the part of Indians and the Spanish. Finally, in the Spring of 1812 he was able to win the trust of the local Indians who eventually sold him the required land 18 miles from Bodega Bay on a bluff 70 feet above the sea level for three pairs of pants, three hoes, two axes and several strands of beads. On 15 March, 1812, work began on the building of a fort. The fort, in the shape of a quadrilateral with an area of 300 by 280 feet was surrounded by a wall with two bastions, in each of which six canons were emplaced; within it nine buildings were built: a church, a house for the commander of the fort, barracks for officers and soldiers, a kitchen, bathhouse, warehouses and a jail. Outside of the fort there were 50 buildings: a mill, a smithy, a tannery, carpentry shops, locksmith and shoemaking shops, stables for horses and cows, animal shed, a bathhouse, bakery, a well, and a house for the Aleuts and the Indians.

Spanish authorities were quite alarmed by these unexpected arrivals and demanded immediate abandonment of Fort Ross; they kept arresting Russian hunters and putting them into jail. However, I. A. Kuskov, having fortified his fort well, as much as he could, amicably received Spanish emissaries, gave them evasive answers, won them over to his side with his hospitality and by feasting them, and stuck firmly to his fort without ceasing to develop his activities with full energy.

By 1818 on a level ground above the turquoise blue ocean, Fort Ross was surrounded by cultivated fields and orchards, and life there was thriving; flocks of domestic animals were grazing on the slopes of the hills, the shops were busy with work, Indians were busily engaged on the shore of the ocean with their primitive hide-covered boats and canoes, and Aleut hunters carried pelts of animals they had killed. Inside Fort Ross there was veritable Russia – a small but cozy church, the beautiful house of the commandant furnished with upholstered furniture, a piano, paintings, carpets, and delicious food. I.A. Kuskov himself had a peg leg and walked with a crutch. The Russian fields were worked by 400 Indians and Aleuts; there were two farms – "Ranch of Kostromitin" and "Ranch of Chernys". There were fruit trees, 2,000 grape bushes, vegetables, cereals; in addition there were 2,000 heads of cattle, one thousand horses, and one thousand sheep. In the last year of its existence For Ross exported to Alaska hundreds of pounds of salt pork, 18,000 pounds of butter, various fats, wool and leather. Such flourishing of Fort Ross alarmed England, Spain and the United States. The famous Monroe Doctrine in 1823 was enacted largely because of the growth of Fort Ross. In 1841, by order of the Russian government in connection with the sale of Alaska Fort Ross was sold to John A. Sutter, an American, for 30,000 dollars. All that remained was a page in the history of the Russian creative genius.

What does all this have to do with the evangelical calling of Russia? A reader may well ask himself. The Russian colonizing genius which manifested itself here was the realization of that evangelical spirit with which the Russian historical process is imbued and which consists of a special approach to people – with heartfelt brotherly love, with brave self-denial, with care for the people, with spreading around of goodness, peace, love, labor and beauty. It was by this very power that the Russians here won over the Indians, Aleuts, the Spaniards, even the proud Anglo-Saxons and nature itself, and it is not by accident that Americans up to this day preserve the memory of that orchard which is untouched by any pest after that orchard was sprinkled with the holy water by a priest from Fort Ross.

Thanks to the selfless, 25 year long labor of our Vladyka Archbishop Tikhon, now a bent old man, the holy Orthodox Faith is now flowering among the Russians in California but it is imperative for us to deepen our understanding and strengthen that mighty power of the Russian spirit, which is manifested by that small church of non-rotting red wood in Fort Ross, power – which is humble love on which entire universe is based and whose realization in this world is the task that chiefly falls to our much suffering homeland which is now enslaved by a legion of demons.

Translated from the Russian by Priest Anatole Lyovin

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