Twenty new crosses were blessed at a ceremony at St. Michael's in Cordova on Friday, Aug. 10, 2023. Photo by Kinsey Brown for The Cordova Times

St. Michael the Archangel Russian Orthodox Church hosted Father Thomas Andrew in Cordova earlier this month for a weekend of church events including a baptism, services, and the blessing of new crosses for the cemetery.  

Father Thomas Andrew traveled from his home parish in Kenai to help bless 20 new wooden crosses, the construction of which were recently completed through a partnership between the City of Cordova and St. Michael’s Church.  

The church was able to obtain the materials needed for the crosses with the help from donations from a Lutheran Church in Michigan, and Cordova’s parks and recreation department lent their time and labor to construct and paint the final design. From start to finish the project took about a year to complete.  

Darrel Olson acts as a starosta, or keeper or the church building, for the local community. Olsen said that the effort from the parks and recreation department was instrumental in completing the project.  

“I think it’s a win-win because we’ve had a few crosses down due to wind and age and have been meaning to do this … then they called us and asked us if they could help,” Olsen said. 

Russian Orthodox tradition does not allow for cremation and therefore a burial with a cross is the most common practice within the religion. Cordovans driving along the Copper River highway out of town will recognize the crosses and their unique Russian Orthodox design which has become a distinctive part of Cordova’s cultural landscape.  


The Orthodox design features three horizontal crossbeams, the lowest of which is slanted diagonally.  

The crosses are made of wood and therefore vulnerable to Cordova’s harsh weather conditions. The new crosses will replace older, damaged crosses in the new cemetery.  

Olsen said the church hopes to continue to update the aging burial site markers, including those in the older cemetery near the municipal airport. In total, Olsen estimates about 50 crosses will need to be replaced soon.  

During the brief visit to town, Father Thomas Andrew performed a baptism for Cordova residents Denise and Kenneth Eleshansky and their new baby. The congregation was also able to have confessions, communion and vespers.  

There has not been a resident priest at St. Michaels for several years since Father Christopher Stanton left Cordova and moved to Tennessee. Olsen said that in the years since the church has had to rely on the infrequent visits from priests elsewhere in Alaska for formal services.  

“We try to have services four times a year, but so far it’s been difficult to do,” he said.   

The infrequency of official priest-lead services is not unique to Cordova. There are roughly 90 Russian Orthodox Parishes in Alaska serviced by less than 50 traveling priests. St. Michael’s has a small but loyal congregation, and is open to visitors and seasonal workers attending services.  

Olsen said he tries to open to the church as often as possible on the weekends to give people the opportunity to light candles and pray.  

Anyone interested in volunteering to help place the new crosses should reach out to Olsen directly or contact the St. Michael’s Russian Orthodox Church Facebook page.