Hazel Ardinger, a close family friend and Kreta’s former parishioner, referred to his tenure as the Golden Age of Orthodoxy in Alaska.
Kreta brought seminary professors to Kodiak who made theology accessible and understandable to the regular folk, Ardinger said.
“It was such a special time.”
He also introduced English to the liturgical services that had been conducted in Slavonic.
Kreta didn’t come to Alaska to change the church, but to salvage it. Two years prior to moving to the state with his wife, Matushka Marie, and their children in the early 1970s, he traveled here from his New York City parish as part of an Orthodox Church in America Metropolitan Council that looked into the possibility of closing down the Alaska diocese.
The trip convinced Kreta that Orthodoxy was very much alive in Alaska, but there was a shortage of priests.
Kreta’s recommendation that a seminary be established in “Christ’s northern vineyard” fell upon receptive ears amongst the higher echelons of the OCA.
Once the OCA was determined to revitalize the Alaska Diocese, the Holy Synod of Bishops sent Kreta to the 49th State as a temporary administrator of the diocese and rector of Sitka’s historic Archangel Michael Cathedral. What was to be only a one-year assignment turned into a mission lasting nearly three decades.
Kreta was invited to be the dean of St. Herman’s Pastoral School, which was established at the old Wildwood Air Force Station in Kenai. Later, the school relocated to Kodiak, where students met for classes in the basement of Holy Resurrection Church. Eventually the school was renamed St. Herman’s Theological Seminary.
Ben Ardinger, who served as a member of the Seminary’s board of trustees, recalled that Kreta envisioned great things for the seminary, even when little money was coming in.
During Kreta’s administration, a single dormitory and refectory, a married housing complex, an administration building and a chapel were built on the seminary grounds.
One would think that overseeing a seminary would be more than a full-time job, yet Kreta was “blessed” with other positions, including diocesan chancellor and parish priest of Holy Resurrection Orthodox parish.
Rosabel Baldwin, who served as starosta, said Kreta’s tenure was “an exciting and wonderful learning time.”
“Father Joseph was a tireless worker; he was always there and ready to help. His gentle ways were a perfect companion for the Alaskan Native persona.”
“Father Joseph never got angry with his parishioners,” said another parishioner. “He never belittled them. He showed patience and tact when explaining the whys of the Church’s moral teachings to those who approached these issues from a secular point of view.
“He put God’s church first, above himself and his family. He respected the faith and cared for the people. He had vision and tremendous energy. He bore adversity with dignity and without complaining.”
Kreta showed a deep affinity with his parishioners, but he and his family also had close ties with the community at large, said parishioner Iver Malutin.
“They blended into our town,” Malutin said. “They were Kodiakans, a well-loved and respected family.”
For his dedication to church and community, Kreta was honored with various awards and titles, including the Alaska Governor’s Award and the Alaska Historic Society’s Evangeline Atwood Award.
In 1990, Kreta was elevated to the position of “protopresbyter,” a title that is granted to only a few Orthodox priests.
But Kreta knew ostentatious titles and awards were fleeting. What mattered was staying true to the mission that he was called to perform.
Kreta “fulfilled his ministry as he thought he had to do,” said former seminary professor Joost van Rossum. “What I appreciate in him is his great faith which has sustained him all these years. It is he who has founded the seminary out of nothing, and he could not have done that without this faith.”
“His trust and faith in God was boundless,” Baldwin said. “He commented that in times when money became short, and it seemed there was no recourse, somehow it would miraculously come from somewhere. It was an answer to prayers.”
“He was like an anchor and rudder,” said Hazel Ardinger. “He kept you on course. He always had such a deep faith.”
“The pain of losing Father Joseph can only be countered by recalling the joy of his childlike ebullience toward life and trying to increase in my own life the traits he taught and lived: profound faith in God, courage, gratitude, humility, love,” said close friend and parishioner, Linda Madsen.
“I thought so much of him,” said parishioner, Nettie Amason. “I never forgot him. He was always in my heart.”
“Father Joseph may have left this earthly life behind, but his spirit and love and living example will always remain in Kodiak and Alaska, through those whom he taught, befriended, helped and brought into Orthodoxy,” Baldwin said.
“He was loved by all,” said Malutin.