Released earlier this year with showings in multiple Alaska communities, “Sacred Alaska” is an award-winning documentary film that offers an intimate look into Native Alaska culture and spirituality. In particular, it showcases the profound influence of Orthodox Christianity, introduced by Russian monks in the late 18th century, on Alaska society.

The film explores how Native Alaskans have woven indigenous beliefs and practices with Orthodox traditions, thereby creating a sacred bond between their faith, and the formidable landscape they call home.

The movie was filmed and created by Simon Scionka and Silas Karbo with help from priests, family, friends, and those who were interviewed. Earlier this year, Scionka spoke with the Watchman about how the film came about, and what it is meant to relay.

What inspired you to create the documentary, Sacred Alaska?

Simon Scionka

SCIONKA: For starters, I am an Orthodox Christian and joined the Orthodox Church 20 years ago. I have learned about the saints like Saint Innocent and Father Herman, but I was also inspired by the native saints as well.

This is the history of the OCA Orthodox Church in America (, it’s our history and it includes the wild, adventurous stories of the saints.

Connecting with Fr. Michael Oleksa and reading his book “Orthodoxy in Alaska” inspired me. I heard him in person and learned about the history of the saints, but also that Orthodoxy is alive today. So, it’s a combination of both of those. This is what gave shape to our film. We traveled through villages and rural communities of Alaska and encountered Yup’ik Orthodox Christians. Our film became not just historical, but also relevant for today. It’s an example to all of us now and to those in the lower 48 who had no idea of the native Orthodox life in Alaska.

What experiences did you have in creating this film?

SCIONKA: This film took four trips to Alaska and three years to edit and put together before it was released. The journey started in 2020. We came to Anchorage and met with Father Oleksa. We then went to Kodiak and Spruce Island on the same trip. We filmed footage of the areas where St Herman walked.

We had to come back home and raise some money to continue the project, and we succeeded. 

Click the image above to watch a trailer of the film.

In 2021, we filmed and visited several villages and communities such as Juneau, Sitka, Bethel and the Kuskokwim River Delta and then ended up back at Kodiak and then to Spruce Island. We were able to stay a full month. 

After doing some editing, we returned back to Alaska during the winter for more filming and to experience the Feast of the Theophany and the Water Blessing in 2022 in the town of Napaskiak. 

We then came back again during the fall of 2022 to finish filming and for some berry picking and a wonderful visit and interview with Father Askoak in Newhalen.

It took another year of finishing and editing before the documentary was released in the fall of 2023. We had countless hours of interviews and footage. Lots of small planes, bush planes and boat rides. It was an incredible adventure. 

What do you hope people will get out of your film?

SCIONKA: We hope the film will resonate with both Orthodox and non-Orthodox audiences. 

I hope people can take away a sense that they can really live out their faith and it’s ok to have a hidden life and to not need to be famous or look here or there to make life better. 

We learned from creating this film and the people we met that they are connected to their environment, land, and the animals. Matushka Olga who is in the process of being officially canonized a saint with the Orthodox Church, lived a life of love for the people in her community. She didn’t need to leave her village to find happiness, but instead she knitted and helped to clothe children, she listened to women who were struggling and comforted them by listening to them and making and sharing her tea. Her example is a beautiful glimpse of how we can live and what it is to love one another, live a humble life and not feel like we have to escape but instead we can inspire and encourage one another right where we’re at. Life doesn’t have to be complicated to be fulfilling. The priests in the communities also teach us that it’s enough to live by our faith, to love one another and to heal those who are broken. I love my wife and my children and that’s a good start, and all we need. We don’t have to be somebody big, but instead to live a simple and profound way.

Do you plan to make future films related to this topic or something else?

SCIONKA: Yes, I want to make more films. I work for many clients and finding time and money to fund my own films is challenging. This was my first time, and I’d do it again. I am optimistic about more documentaries regarding Orthodox in Alaska. I’ve done work on the issues of poverty and the filming of Poverty Inc. and we’re doing a follow-up on that.

Is there anything else you’d like to say or share about Sacred Alaska?

SCIONKA: I am excited to get the film out there. Bishop Alexis of Alaska saw the film and liked it. He hopes it will be an encouragement, especially for the villages. That was a real blessing for us and so we’re hoping to get more screenings in Alaska and throughout America. 

In the fall we will have online rental options. For now, it’s nice for people to come together and watch the film, it’s sort of like going to the movie theaters. It’s full of beauty and art and show’s God’s creation.

To learn more, visit the movie website at

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Award-winning ‘Sacred Alaska’ film highlights profound influence of Orthodoxy on Native culture

Pamela Samash
Pamela Samash is a longtime Fairbanks area resident. She recently served on the Alaska Commission on Aging, and is past-president of Right To Life – Interior Alaska.

1 Comment

  • Jeanette Exner says:

    I’m happy that it won “Best Film” award from the International Orthodox Film Festival.