Here I am, Iím in Anchorage, Alaska.
My first visit to Alaska, this
completes my visiting fifty states.
This is my fiftieth state, so itís
wonderful to be here at last. I am
on the grounds of the Alaska Native
Heritage Center, speaking to Steven
Alvarez, who is- what is your role
here at the center?
Steven Alvarez: I am
Director of Strategic Initiatives
FMG: You were telling me
you produce films sometimes for the
center as well. And we were hearing
the story of what brought you here,
you said it was St. Herman that
brought you. To begin with, your
heritage goes back to New Mexico,
your background is Apache. You were
telling me that itís connected with
some of the peoples in Alaska, as
SA: Right. The Athabaskans
up here share a common language (a
common language base), and weíre
pretty much the same people.
FMG: And, how in the world
did you end up becoming Orthodox?
SA: I was part of San Jose
Christian Fellowship that converted
back in 1993. And I was the music
director there at the church, and so
that whole process brought us to
FMG: You were swept up.
SA: Yeah, yeah.
FMG: Had you been a
Christian all your life?
SA: I was raised Roman
Catholic. So I had really no issues
with the theology. I mean, I grew up
with it. The only question that I
kept asking was, once we become
Orthodox, where does the band go?
FMG: Because you were the
percussionist in the worship band.
SA: I was the worship
FMG: Oh, you were the
SA: Yeah, and so we were
chrismated and I was ordained a
subdeacon that same weekend, and we
became Orthodox. And I was there for
four years before I moved up here.
FMG: And you felt like, as
you said, St. Herman had engineered
itó had brought you up here.
SA: Right. Well, a deacon
from the church and a layperson and
I came to, when we all turned fortyó
look, thereís a fox right there!
FMG: Oh! Look. And he sees
us. I think this fox sees us. Is
that a red fox?
SA: That is a red fox.
Heís kinda skinny.
FMG: Heís skinny, maybe
heís a little one. Heís got a nice
puffy tail, though. Wow. Itís like a
little dog or a cat even, itís so
alert. Not very afraid of people, I
donít think. Heís going to try to go
in thatÖ Oh, he pounced on
something. Heís gotÖ heís so
graceful. Itís like a cat, really.
Yeah. Well, weíll keep an eye on it,
and see if he shows up again.....
So yíall came up, you said, to
pray, to ask St. Herman to make the
next forty years a little bit better
than the first forty years.
SA: Right, and I had over
the course of the time that I was
canting and studying the theology of
the Church, discovered how close
Orthodox theology was with Native
FMG: Could you tell me a
little bit more about that? Because
I donít know much about Native
American spirituality. What would I
SA: Well, you know, the
whole liturgical cycle- how every
part of the day in Orthodoxy thereís
a service or a ceremony that is
designed to help you- itís the same
aspect of Native American
Spirituality. Every part of what we
do is tied to our spiritual beliefs.
Whether itís getting up in the
morning or going to bed at night.
And all of our ceremonies are very
liturgical. Thereís a reason for
everything. And we have our own form
of incense, which is the burning of
sage or cedar. We have, umÖ
FMG: The chantÖ
SA: Yeah, the chanting,
um, you know, the belief that
because God created everything, that
because of that, all of his Creation
is sacred. So we hold that the
trees, the ground, you know, has the
sacredness, the holiness of God in
it because he created it.
FMG: Like Eastern
Orthodoxy, with the sense that God
is really filling this Earth, as
opposed to a kind of spirituality
that would say, the spirit is good,
the body is bad; we only pay
attention to the soul, we try to
rise above physical reality. Itís
that same treasuring and discerning
the presence of God in the world.
SA: Right. And then also
in the same manner in which clergy
in the Orthodox Church are set apart
as people who provide us with a
spiritual guide. The same happens in
Native American spirituality. We
have certain elders, or what has
become know as, the term is medicine
men. People who have the ability to
heal, but also provide insights
that, this is whatís right and this
is how you should be living your
life, and this is the answer to
those questions that you have.
FMG: Wisdom. Like an
elder, I guess, or like a spiritual
SA: Right. And an elder is
considered a spiritual father
because everything that we do is
tied to our spiritual life. And, you
know, our songs and our dances, even
if they are social, there is a
spiritual aspect to it.
FMG: Not every old person
is an elder automatically.
SA: Yeah. So, as I learned
more about St. Herman, I came to
revere him and love him in the same
manner that the Alaskan natives did
because of what he did for them. So
I prayed that somehow I could find a
way toÖ And I also felt that because
of how the church handled Native
Americans when they first came over,
as opposed the Roman approach, which
is baptize them and then enslave
them, and the Protestant approach
was donít even baptize them. You
know, that there was something
special about theÖ I think it would
make it easy for Native Americans to
discover the Church, and I felt,
well, this could be a way of me
being some kind of instrument that
could at least bring the Orthodox
Church to the doorstep of Native
FMG: Continuing the work
of St. Herman.
SA: Right. So, thatís what
I asked, Can I do that. And the next
thing I know Iím being invited to
come up and perform, the next thing
I know Iím up here performing and
teaching, and the next thing is Iím
accepting a job and moving up here.
FMG: You found a new home.
SA: Yeah. And itís been
wonderful. Iíve been able to do just
about everything I could dream and
imagine of artistically, as a
performing artist. Iím still waiting
to find out whatís going to happen
with regards to serving Native
American people, but I think Iím
doing that here. Everybody that
knows me here is part of what I do;
the Alaskan natives know that Iím
part of the Orthodox Church, so I
think at some point Godís plan will
be revealed. Weíll see what happens.
FMG: Maybe youíre just
getting filled up with more and more
wisdom as time goes by, and when the
right time comes, youíll be called
SA: One could hope!
FMG: Thanks so much for
speaking with me today.