In a letter to Abbot Damascene of Valaam, dated November 22, 1865, Simeon I. Yanovsky, Chief Manager of the Russian Colonies from 1818 to 1820, wrote:
"Once I related to [Fr. (later St.) Herman] how the Spaniards in California had taken fourteen of our Aleuts prisoner, and how the Jesuits had tortured one of them, to try and force them all to take the Catholic faith. But the Aleuts would not submit, saying: We are Christians, we have been baptized, and they showed them the crosses they wore. But the Jesuits objected, saying No, you are heretics and schismatics; if you do not agree to take the Catholic faith we will torture you. And they left them shut up two to a cell until the evening to think it over.
In the evening they came back with a lantern and lighted candles, and began again to try and persuade them to become Catholics. But the Aleuts were filled with God's grace, and firmly and decisively answered, We are Christians and we would not betray our faith. Then the fanatics set about torturing them. First they tortured one singly while the other one was made to watch. First they cut off one of the toe joints from one foot, and then from the other, but the Aleut bore it all and continued to say: I am a Christian and I will not betray my faith. Then they cut a joint off each finger first from one hand, then the other; then they hacked off one foot at the instep, then one hand at the wrist. The blood poured out, but the martyr bore it all to the end, maintaining his stand, and with this faith he died, from loss of blood!
On the following day it was planned to torture the others, but that same night an order was received from Monterey that all the captured Russian Aleuts were to be sent under guard to Monterey. And so in the morning those remaining alive were sent away. This was related to me by an Aleut who was an eyewitness a colleague of the man put to death and who later escaped from the Spaniards....
When I had finished telling him this, Father [Herman] asked me, What was the name of this tortured Aleut? Peter, I replied, but I cannot remember the other name.
Then the elder stood before the Icon, devoutly crossed himself and said, Holy newly-martyred [Peter], pray to God for us!"
The holy, glorious, right-victorious hieromartyr Juvenaly of Alaska, Protomartyr of America, was a member of the first group of Orthodox missionaries who came from the monastery of Valaam to preach the Word of God to the native inhabitants of Alaska. He was martyred while evangelizing among the Eskimos on the mainland of Alaska in 1796. His feast day is celebrated on July 2, and he is also commemorated with all the saints of Alaska (September 24), and with the first martyrs of the American land (December 12).
He was born in 1761 in Ekaterinburg, Russia, and was named Jacob Govouchkin. In his monastic life he was tonsured and given the name Juvenaly in memory of St. Juvenal, fifth century Patriarch of Jerusalem. After becoming a monk he was successively ordained deacon and then priest, becoming a hieromonk. He lived much of his early monastic life in the area around Lake Ladoga in northern Russia near Finland at the Konyavesky and Valaam Monasteries.
In 1793, a missionary group of eight monastics was organized at the Monastery of Valaam, near Lake Ladoga, to preach the Word of God to the natives of Alaska. This group of missionaries was led by Archimandrite Joseph (Bolotov), and included four including Juvenaly and Makary, one, Steven, and two lay including Herman. Their destination was the Russian settlement on Kodiak Island in the Gulf of Alaska, some 8,000 miles away across the length of Asia through Siberia and then the cold Bering Sea of the northern Pacific Ocean. The group arrived on Kodiak Island on September 24< 1794, to an unexpected scene. The settlement was primitive beyond what they were told, and violence was commonplace. The promised church was not there, and the promised supplies for three years were absent.
While Archimandrite Joseph dealt with the leadership issues with Baranov, the leader of the settlement, Hieromonk Juvenaly and the others in their party began their missionary work. Within two years their zeal had brought more than 12,000 Alaskans to the Orthodox Christian faith. They did this not by degrading their former shaman based faith but by showing them that Christianity was the fulfillment of that faith.
As the group continued preaching further away from the settlement on Kodiak, Hieromonk Juvenaly began missionary work on the mainland of Alaska 1796. Here he continued the success of the past two years as he baptized hundreds of Chugach Sugpiag and Athabaskan Indians. But as his mission continued along northwest toward the Bering Sea, he disappeared. No material evidence of his disappearance has been found, but among the Alaskan people oral tradition relates of his martyrdom. The tradition is that as he moved into territory inhabited by Eskimos, some Eskimos did not understand some of his gesturing while making the sign of the cross. Disturbed, a Yupiat shaman ordered an attack upon the hieromonk, and he was killed by spears and arrows. Thus, Juvenaly became the first Orthodox martyr in the Americas.
Troparion (Fourth Tone)
- Today Alaska rejoices and America celebrates,
- For the new world has been sanctified by martyrdom.
- Kodiak echoes with songs of thanksgiving,
- Iliamna and Kenai observe the festival of faith.
- The Apostel and martyr Juvenaly is glorified,
- And Peter the Aleut is exalted by his voluntary sacrifice,
- In their devotion and love for the Lord,
- They willingly endured persecution and death for the Truth,
- Now in the Kingdom of Heaven they intercede for our souls!
Kontakion (Fourth Tone)
- Today Valaam joins Alaska
- In celebrating this joyous feast,
- As her spiritual son Juvenaly
- Embraces the new martyr Peter with love.
- Together they suffered for the Lord in America
- And united the old world with the new by their voluntary sacrifice.
- Now forever they stand before the King of glory and intercede for our souls.
Troparion (First Tone)
- O Peter, upon the rock of thy faith hath Christ built His Church,
- and in the streams of thy blood hath He hallowed our land.
- In thee thy people hath been sanctified, O Aleut;
- from the farthest islands of the west hath He raised thee, a light unto all.
- Glory to Him that hath glorified thee.
- Glory to Him that hath crowned thee.
- Glory to Him that worketh healings for all through thee