Old Harbor gets new priest
Father Ken Bracy, new parish priest of Three Saints Orthodox Church in Old Harbor, and his wife, Matushka Dena, look forward to celebrating their first Old Harbor Pascha. Pascha is the Eastern Orthodox Church name for the holiday celebrating the resurrection of Christ.
Bracy arrived in the village in early March and his wife came two and a half weeks later. Still waiting for the bulk of household wares, books, Dena’s painting supplies and other items to arrive, the Bracys say they’re “living out of a suitcase” but they’ve permanently settled into the village which is their new parish.
In addition to the cycle of services, Bracy has begun teaching Tuesday night Bible classes and is looking forward to conducting studies with Old Harbor youth in the future. He also will serve the Orthodox faithful in the village of Akhiok.
Old Harbor’s last priest, Father Gerasium Viruk, left a little over a year ago to take on duties as parish priest at Holy Resurrection Church in Kodiak.
Bracy has been a priest for four years. His last parish was at Holy Trinity Chapel in Reston, Virginia. He also was involved in the translation of liturgical texts into English, a project for the Orthodox Church of America.
There are divine services that aren’t being used because they haven’t been translated, Bracy says.
The Bracys were chrismated into the Orthodox Church in 1993 while studying at St. Tikhon’s Seminary in Pennsylvania. It was something they had talked about doing ever since they attended a Pascha service several years before.
Bracy, who grew up in Massachusetts, was an Episcopalian, His wife was raised in the rural south and attended Baptists churches.
Being a priest was something that was on Bracy’s mind for a long time.
Pointing to the importance of education in his ministry, Bracy says he’s concerned with not only teaching, “but developing education programs.”
Bracy has lived in other parts of the world, and he says that exposure to different culture and lifestyles is an effective way to learn.
He lived in a Mennonite community while attending high school, for a short time was a hospice worker in the Middle East for the Episcopal church, and he traveled in Europe.
While in the Middle Eat Bracy worked with the Israelis and Palestinian Christians.
Bracy witnessed behind-the-scenes activities that weren’t reported in the media. “Official statements from the government don’t tell you what’s going on with the people in the streets.”
Politics affect people in their everyday life, Bracy says. In spite of conflicts, the Middle East is the world’s school for hospitality. Bracy says. “It’s a cornerstone of their culture. Even if they don’t like you, they’re going to feed you.”
He recalls being with a group of people who visited a Palestinian home. Jews, Christians and Moslems gathered in that humble dwelling and although the family had very little, “they fed us royally,” Bracy says. He also became acquainted with the Druze sect, which “pulls things from Islam, Judaism and Christianity,” he says. The Druze take Mid-East hospitality a few steps further, Bracy says.
Matushka Dena studied art for many years and while attending St. Tikhon’s, developed interests and skills in the field of iconography. She studied under a monk and iconographer with the Antiochian Orthodox Church. She wanted to learn more about the church, and iconography was an effective, inspiring teaching too, she says.
“I find it a great form of prayer,” Matushka Dena says. She sketched images of saints by reading physical descriptions of them. She has painted icons of Christ and the Theotokos and provided textural background for icons of feast days.
The Bracys say that, even though living in an Alaska village is ‘a bit of an adjustment,’ they’re happy to be in Old Harbor.
“Everyone seems very friendly here, very caring,” Matushka Dena says.