Memory Eternal ~ Reader John (Richard) Dauenhauer

            Reader John Richard Daeunhauer: Orthodox Christian and Poet

            Reader John was not only a scholar and preserver of Tlingit language and literacy. He was a faithful Orthodox Christian and Church Reader who attended services, received sacraments, served on parish council and the St. Herman Seminary Board. One of his many legacies is his poetry which fuses Orthodox theology with creative expression and interactions with the Alaskan landscape and people. Daeunhauer’s writings and poetry are filled with themes of personal transfiguration, death and resurrection in Christ. The Orthodox faith helped shape his world view which is clearly expressed in his Essay “The Spiritual Epiphany of Aleut.”  Reader John shows an abiding interest in the Orthodox teaching of theosis, the gradual process of human beings becoming “partakers of the divine nature (1 Peter 1:4)” and growing in the likeness of God. Reader John writes:

The potential for divinity is inseparable from the potential for humanity, because, as Jesus teaches in the Gospel according to St. Luke (17:21) the Kingdom of God is within us and does not come visibly in the form of a geographic place. Likewise, St. John the Theologian repeats a theme throughout the Fourth Gospel that we all have the potential of being born as children of God. (1:12-13) and that unless we undergo a spiritual rebirth or enlightenment- a spiritual coming alive-we cannot see the Kingdom of God (3:3-8). Conversely, the Kingdom of God is revealed through the act or experience of enlightenment. (Orthodox Alaska, January 1979 p. 35)

This quest for spiritual rebirth and regeneration certainly was a major theme in Reader John’s life and work. As a faithful Orthodox Christian Reader John sought to be personally transformed and transfigured by Jesus Christ and the life of the Church. Through a personal rebirth not only do we see the Kingdom of God (even in this life) but we ourselves become truly human. It is only in relationship to God that we can become human beings.  Reader John’s love, humor and kindness show that he had truly become a new creature in Christ.

Reader John often meditated and wrote on death and mortality in the Light of Christ’s Holy Resurrection. He has now personally made that passage from death to life which he prayed about for many years.  His unpublished poetry collection “Doxologies” contains two beautiful poems on Pascha which express his belief in life after death and the unique way in which Orthodox services link the Church on earth with the Church in heaven. In these poems the liturgical worship of the Church mirrors and reflects cosmic worship and transformation of all of God’s Creation. As we pray for Reader John, Norah and family these two poems can help us experience the Empty Tomb and the Light of Christ’s Holy Resurrection.   They form a lasting legacy to Reader John’s abiding faith and hope in Christ. We believe that Reader John is now experiencing the heavenly, cosmic Liturgy of which he wrote so convincingly. May His memory be eternal!

Russian Easter, 1981

(St. Innocent of Irkutsk Orthodox Church, Anchorage, AK)

As if

these northern lights confirm

what the music tells us

circling the church

with the myrrh bearing women

on our three day journey

to the empty tomb:

“The angels in heaven

sing Thy recurrection,”

but we on earth

still await the news

beneath the physics

of solar flares and shock waves,

energy showers

sprinkling the earth-

the earth still frozen

crunchy, where we meet it,

thawing underfoot

after equinox, after

Passover, but still

Not fully released

From the hold of death—

while songs and incense rise;

as if perhaps

from some angelic vista

this stream of candle flame

is some

human northern lights

rising from the earth,

a flowing glimmer in the vernal

almost-midnight dark.




Easter Matins

(St. Innocent of Irkutsk Orthodox Church, Anchorage, AK)


In redness, the votive lamp

glows red. The altar is the still

center of the world. We stand

in midnight darkness, semi-

circling the altar, and become

an icon, standing as the halo

spelling out “I AM

WHO I AM,” bearing

salvation history in icons

of the prophets, Annunciation,

Nativity, Theophany

and Lazarus, about to light

the candles, chant

the resurrection, and proceed

around the church. This circling

becomes at once the first, and yet

the farthest, the once and yet most recent

ring of ever expanding con-

centric circles, both the splash

and ripple, the candles tracers

captured in a time exposure

of the timeless moment. We circle

stillness at the empty

center of creation: a cosmic

gyroscope of time and space

balancing the world, as the church itself

becomes the empty tomb.

Memory Eternal ~ Reader John (Richard) Dauenhauer
Reader Richard John Dauenhauer +August 19, 2014
I met Dr. Richard Dauenhauer in Dillingham Alaska in 1976.  He was conducting a workshop on
bilingual teaching methods and folklore for Alaska Native teachers in the Community Center,
above the fire station, when the alarms sounded and the sirens on the fire trucks roared, interrupting
the presentations.  The house across the street from mine on Wood River Road was ablaze. Two
young children and their father perished in the tragedy, while the mother escaped with severe
That night hundreds of people attended the memorial at St. Seraphim Orthodox Church, including
the participants and faculty from the bilingual conference, Dick Dauenhauer among them.  He
made the sign of the cross, venerated the icons and raised the question among the Orthodox
from along the Nushagak "Is he Orthodox?"  He was.
Coming to the house after the service, he met my wife and our daughter Anastasia who raised
the moose antler pectoral cross I was wearing as if in blessing.  This inspired the first of several
poems Dick wrote about my family. 
Veneration, first
The kissing of the Cross
The icon and the Child
Returning from a service for the dead
With the images of children
Lost in flames
We greet the infant in her mother's arms.
We venerate
this image too; the daughter
from her father's chest
in her tiny grasp
lifting up the Cross.
He was regularly inspired by church feasts and liturgical
events to compose another page or two of verse.  Some of my favorites were published in
Frames of Reference, included in his unpublished collection, Doxologies, and self-
published "Flying Mountans and Rice Water" and published again
in his latest volume, Benchmarks.  All his poetry is infused with faith, faith in God, faith
in Christ, faith in the Church, faith above all, in the glorious and triumphant Resurrection.
He wrote a poem when his mother died, meditating on how our parents go before us and
continue to show us how to make the various and inevitable transitions in our life, from
childhood to adolescence, from teen years to adulthood,  through adulthood to maturity
and from the golden years to the ultimate journey into eternity.  His poem, honoring Archbishop
Gregory on the Feast of Theophany, describes the huddled crowd gathered at the river
as encased in "frozen rizas, exposing only face." His poetry is infused with liturgical joy.
Dick was a committed reader and singer, at St. Innocent Cathedral during its earliest
formative years and then in Juneau at St. Nicholas church.  He helped launch, design
and fully paid for the "creation of the world" Tlingit style beaded vestments that have
been on display around the world since they were completed by his mother in law,
Emma Marks, and my wife, Matushka Xenia Oleksa.  He was instrumental in finding
funds for a series of liturgical recordings in Tlingit and in Aleut,  cassette tapes that
preserve the voices of elders now long-gone sung from memory and from the heart in
their own languages--now a precious treasure for all who knew those pious singers.
As historian, Dick's "Spiritual Epiphany of Aleut" inspired me along the path of researching
Alaska Native language translations, and his "Conflicting Visions in Alaskan Education"
laid the foundations for my own doctoral dissertation. We worked together for five years at
the Sealaska Heritage Foundation, producing literary and historical texts for Tlingit villages
and college classes. It was he who recruited me to the campus of Alaska Pacific University
and launched my career as a college instructor.  DD was a central figure in my own life
as well as the life of the Diocese of Alaska.
Dr. Richard (chrismated John for St. John the Theologian) loved theology, loved liturgical
music, loved the feasts. He fell asleep in the Lord on the Feast of the Transfiguration. His
funeral service will be celebrated in the Feast of the Dormition. The Fortieth Day of his
repose will fall on the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross.  His death was sudden and
unforeseen, but God knew  exactly what He was doing.

Archpriest Michael Oleksa

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