Elegant onion domes and colorful, stylized icons bear witness to the influence of some of Alaska's earliest settlers.
Russian trappers and fur traders had already begun to take advantage of Alaska's wealth of natural resources by 1784, when Grigory Shelikhov established the first permanent colony at Three Saints Bay on Kodiak Island.
Ten years later, Catherine the Great acceded to Shelikhov's request to establish an Orthodox mission there. The arrival of priests and missionaries eased some of the tensions between the merchants and the Alaska Natives who were their main source of labor.
In 1799, the Russian-American Company, under the management of Aleksandr Baranov-an administrator hired by Shelikhov-was granted a monopoly on trade in the region and given governmental authority. From that point until Alaska was purchased by the United States, church and state were inextricably intertwined.
Today, Orthodox Christianity plays a major role in the lives of many Alaska Natives and others in the Southeast, Southwest, and Southcentral regions. Visitors to Sitka, Juneau, Kenai and the Aleutian Islands in particular can explore the lovely churches and their beautiful artwork, and are usually very welcome to participate in a service if they choose to.