About Sister Ioanna
The founder and Head of the St. Innocent of Alaska Monastic Community is Sister Ioanna, who became a monastic on November 11, 2001, at the hand of Bishop (now Metropolitan) Merkurii of the Moscow Patriarchate. Having been blessed by the Lord to be close to Him since she was a child, this was the fulfillment of Sister Ioanna's teenage dream.
In addition to loving the Lord, Sister Ioanna has also always loved learning and teaching, and thus has been involved in education for most of her life. Her undergraduate B.A. work at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, NY, involved split majors in religion, philosophy and French, and included many courses in psychology and sociology. In addition, she was the first student to complete the Certificate in Religious Education program. Furthermore, she was also the first woman to receive the Canterbury Graduate Scholarship for three years of seminary study, which helped enable her to complete the Masters of Theology (M.Th.) seminary degree with a major in Systematic Theology and Philosophy of Religion at the Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, TX. Her work for the M.Th. seminary degree also included three summers at Union Theological Seminary in NYC, plus considerable study with the late Mitered Archpriest Photius Donahue (Dr. Francis Donahue, Ph.D.), a full professor in the Religion Department at Michigan State University in East Lansing and founder of St. Andrew Orthodox Church, near the campus in East Lansing. Fr. Photius served as a mentor for her, both as her Pastor and Spiritual Father at St. Andrew's Church, and academically as a professor at MSU.
Furthermore, as a lover of the arts since a young child, many doors opened up for her as she pursued the study of Art History at Michigan State University and received an M.A. (Master of Arts) degree. She then completed an Interdisciplinary Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy) in Art History, Religion and Philosophy, also at Michigan State University, in which Fr. Photius Donahue played a pivotal role, including serving on her dissertation committee.
Sister Ioanna taught a wide variety of interdisciplinary Humanities courses (especially History of Western Civilization and Introduction to Philosophy) at Michigan State University, Wayne State University, Lawrence Institute of Technology (now a university), Marygrove College, and briefly at St. Mary's College (Orchard Lake) and Sienna College.
Dedicated to religious education since high school, while in college and after, Sister Ioanna envisioned writing and creating adult religious educational materials in which she could communicate complex theological and philosophical concepts in a manner that people without advanced theological and philosophical training could understand. Her many years of college teaching gave her much experience in communicating complex ideas in understandable ways.
Beginning in 1974 and throughout the 1970's and 80's, Sister Ioanna gave numerous public slide-lectures and retreats about the meaning, history and interrelationship of Orthodox arts—icons, architecture, music and liturgy—and how they express Orthodox theology and spirituality (one of her major specialties). Then, since 1986-88 she has been working on applying and combining her varied academic knowledge, experience in teaching and writing, and her love of the arts, to the creating of materials for Orthodox adult education and evangelism/mission. This work especially involves using the video art-form—making videos/DVD's—but also including writing books and articles, and making audio-recordings of Orthodox prayers and audio-books. In order to publish and distribute these materials for Orthodox adult education, she established St. Innocent/Firebird Videos, Audios & Books in February 1992, that grew out of the Russian Treasures documentary film series that was incorporated in 1988. Some of Sister Ioanna's articles and essays are available on this website, in the Articles section. The primary work in the Lord's vineyard, to which she wishes to dedicate the rest of her life, is creating an on-going series of 30-40-minute educational DVD's, entitled "What in the World is the Orthodox Church?" The narrations of the first 4 DVD's in this series are available to read as essays in our Articles section:
In addition to her academic endeavors, since childhood, Sister Ioanna has always loved the arts, and has been involved in doing many different art forms, especially singing. She sings all the Divine Services at St. Innocent Church, is an experienced choir director and chanter, and is knowledgeable about the complexities of Orthodox liturgical practice and liturgical theology.
About the Work of the St. Innocent Monastic Community
In addition to the obediences of assisting Fr. Roman in the ministry of the St. Innocent of Irkutsk Parish, (including doing the weekly bulletin, creating this parish website, singing all the Divine Services, and doing parish education), the main focus of the ministry of the St. Innocent Monastic Community is the obedience of producing Orthodox educational materials, especially videos that are available on both DVD and VHS, under the name, ST. INNOCENT/FIREBIRD Videos, Audios & Books (or ST. INNOCENT/FIREBIRD Multi-Media). This is a non-profit company that was originally started in February 1992 (as a subsidiary (D.B.A.) of Russian Treasures, Inc., established in 1988), and so has been producing and distributing Orthodox educational materials for 24 years (as of February of 2016), although the first 2 videos were actually filmed in 1989. When the federal tax- exempt status (501(c)(3) was transferred from Russian Treasures to the St. Innocent Religious Community in 2007, St. Innocent/Firebird Videos was also transferred as a DBA (Doing Business As) with the State of Michigan, as a legal subsidiary under the St. Innocent Religious/Monastic Community. Work on reconstructing the existing ST. INNOCENT/FIREBIRD website, (www.firebirdvideos.com) started in January 2015, (after the St. Innocent Church website was launched in May 2014), and is still on-going, because the shopping cart still needs to be added. A functioning shopping cart will be an important component of the newly revised Firebird Videos website. For a link to the existing website that shows all the over 100 educational items, click here.
Articles Offered by the St. Innocent Monastic Community
When recreating our St. Innnocent Church website in June, July and August 2014, we decided to transfer to the St. Innocent Church website the approximately 35 varied articles that we used to have on our ST. INNOCENT/FIREBIRD VIDEOS website, since they are more properly a part of the educational ministry of the Parish church and Monastic Community, than of Firebird Videos. Also, by transferring them here, they are now more readily available to more people. All these articles and prayers were previously written by Sister Ioanna of the St. Innocent Monastic Community. We hope you will find them of spiritual benefit. They are in a number of groups or categories in our Articles tab/section (except for one article, "Might You Consider Becoming a Monastic?").
These older 35 articles now join an additional 35+ articles for a total of over 70 articles in the Articles section (as of March 2016). To access these various articles, use the pull-down feature on the "Articles" section/tab bar. Included are:
(1) PRAYERS for the Journey Along THE WAY (click here)
This category contains 9 prayers: Daily Offering Prayer; Thank You; Your Presence; Holiness; Overcoming Self; Trust; Security; Suffering; and Death.
(2) Articles about the Orthodox Faith
This group contains 6 articles: Why Icons?; Why Saints? Why Relics?; Why Great Lent?; Why Orthodoxy Sunday?; and What is the Transfiguration?;
(3) Saints' Lives
This group contains the lives of 14 saints (as of March 2016), including icons and photos: St. Xenia of St. Petersburg; St. John of Kronstadt; St. Andrei Rublev; St. Herman of Alaska; St. Innocent of Alaska and Metropolitan of Moscow; St. Tikhon, Bishop of America and Patriarch of Russia; St. Sergius of Radonezh; St. Seraphim of Sarov; St. Innocent of Irkutsk (a 2nd Life); and St. Alexander Nevsky; Mother Maria of Paris; Grand Dutchess Elizabeth Romanova; St. Moses the Black; and St. John Kochurov of Chicago. We will continue to be adding more saints' lives in this section.
(4) Sacred Places
This group contains brief descriptions and photos of 6 sacred sites in Russia: Moscow; Sergiev Posad; Rostov the Great; Yaroslavl; St. Petersburg; and Valaam. We would like to add some more of Alaska and Irkutsk, when we have time.
So far this group has a 9-part meditation on the meaning of the 9 phrases of the much-beloved Orthodox hymn/prayer to the Holy Spirit, entitled "O Heavenly King." There is also one theme-related compilation of 5 short poems, entitled "REFLECTIONS ON LOVE & HATE, INJUSTICE & TRUTH." The titles of the poems are: (1) The Cycle of Hate Expands; (2) The Image of God in Us; (3) The Rape of Lady Justice; (4) All Who Seek After Truth; and (5) Visions of Love & Life & Beauty. Plus, five additional poems have been added recently, and we intend to add more poems, as time allows.