My grandfather gave me a cross to wear shortly after I became Orthodox in 1998. He told me that it was an example of a cross found on a Russian pilgrim in California. There was an inscription on the back in Cyrillic. I couldn’t remember what he told me it read. He and my uncle, his son, wore the same cross. I had an second one that I gave to a friend when he was received into the Orthodox Church a few years later. But, I didn’t know how to find another cross like this.
Last year I spent some time surfing the web to find another cross, so that I could get one for my son. After some amount of time, I found it. It was sold by a place called the Fort Ross Conservancy. I understood that it was some sort of museum, but that was really all I knew. The important thing was that I was able to order that cross!
I recently started reading an excellent book that I highly recommend, Orthodox Christians in America: a Short History, by John Erickson. This is a great read for those who want to learn more about the the missionary activities of the Russians and how it spread into North America. It is an interesting and quick read, and well worth the modest investment of time and money. It was here that I found out a little more about Fort Ross. In short, there was a company called the Russian-American Company, which was a state-sponsored Russian group that came over through Alaska. They had a monopoly on various forms of trade. They employed both locals and Russians. Their southernmost post was in Fort Ross, which is in California, about 45 miles north of San Francisco. The Russian workers wanted to have a Church and priest to attend to their religious needs. A great number of missionary activities came out of this. We have heard about the great missionary monk, Herman.
Later another priest came to minister to the people, both indigenious and Russian. His name was Fr. John (Ioann) Veniaminov. He came from Russia and attended to the needs of those in the various posts of the company including this post in Fort Ross. This priest was eventually elevated to Bishop, taking the name Innocent. Attached is a picture of the chapel where these workers prayed together with Veniaminov. We know him now as Saint Innocent, Apostle to America, and Enlightener of Alaska. Saint Innocent conducted many services, baptisms, weddings, and funerals in Fort Ross. The cross I referred to earlier was found on the remains of a man who was buried within the compound. The Russian Orthodox Church reburied the remains with the cross in the cemetery, but took a mold of it before reburial. The skull and cross-bones symbolize the victory of life over death. The Cyrillic writing on the back reads “Save and Preserve.”