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Matushka Sophia Sokolov

On Monday, July 4th, faithful pilgrims from throughout the Bay Area converged upon Fort Ross State Historic Park in Jenner, California, for divine worship, memorial, and a festive picnic lunch. His Eminence, Archbishop Benjamin, presided over the Divine Liturgy and was joined by numerous clergy and faithful from Santa Rosa, Calistoga, San Francisco, Berkeley, and beyond.

The morning, like many in West Marin, began under a blanket of fog with a crisp breeze nipping at our noses. We made our way through the gates of the fort and up to the chapel, a rather simple structure built from wooden boards. The original chapel was built in the mid-1820s and is heralded as the first Russian Orthodox structure in North America, outside of Alaska. In 1836, Father Ioann Veniaminov, who later became Bishop Innocent, the first hierarch in our land, visited the California settlement and conducted sacraments of marriage, baptism, and other religious services. In 1977, he was glorified as one of our first saints. How fitting it is that this year’s pilgrimage fell the day after the Sunday we commemorate our North American Saints!

As the fog continued to spread its meandering fingers through the hills, close to one hundred pilgrims, young and old, squeezed into the cozy chapel for the beginning of service. The sisters of  Holy Assumption Monastery in Calistoga sang the responses as His Eminence and local clergy concelebrated the Divine Liturgy.

Following the service, the faithful spilled out of the chapel into the mid-day sunshine. It is at this time, every year I have attended, that the fog begins to burn away, revealing the true blue sky of the Pacific, providing a beautiful backdrop as the clergy and faithful process out of the fort to the nearby “Old Russian” cemetery. Since the Ross settlement was a mercantile village with many families, a large number of the one hundred and thirty-one people buried in the cemetery are women and children. So there, under the cemetery’s towering Orthodox cross, we sang the panikhida, and His Eminence blessed the graves with holy water.

As the noonday sun continued to break through the fog, the faithful returned to the fort and gathered for a wonderful picnic lunch. Parishioners from across the Bay Area visited with each other—sharing stories and watermelon. Children played in the safe confines of the fort—climbing over cannons and peeking into the old well. Clergy answered questions from park visitors, and others ventured down to the water to skip stones or admire the great majesty of our beautiful state.

The Bay Area is blessed with a wonderfully rich Orthodox history and remarkable opportunities for fellowship with great friends from all over. If you didn’t make it this year, mark your calendar for Tuesday, July 4, 2017, and join us for a truly enjoyable and rewarding experience!

Link to photograph album.

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