The First Orthodox Christian

Leif Eriksson was the first Orthodox Christian in America


Most people are aware that the Norse explorer Leif Eriksson was the first European to reach America, some 500 years before Christopher Columbus, but very few know he arrived as part of a Christian mission. Fewer still realize Leif Eriksson was an Orthodox Christian. Having become a hirdman (guard) of the royal army of King Olaf Tryggvason in Norway, Leif had himself accepted baptism into the Christian faith, and had received from the King orders to travel to Greenland with a priest in order to convert the Norse settlements there.

When their ships were blown off course, Leif and his companions ended up in what we now know as Newfoundland. After getting back on course, and converting the Greenlanders to Christ, Lief and his crew returned to this Newfoundland, where they built permanent settlements, settlements that included the construction of churches. While the Norwegian presence in North America was short lived, the fact that the first Christian presence on the continent was Orthodox is significant.

Although King Olaf Tryggvason had accepted baptism at Canterbury in England, the first Christian rulers in Scandinavia were kinsmen of the rulers of Gardarike, or Kiev (The Rus, of course, were not Slavs but Scandinavians, most hailing from Sweden). King Olaf had himself grown up under the protection of Grand Prince Valdemar (Vladimir), who famously converted the Rus to Christianity in 988. Norse Christianity was Orthodox in tone and appearance from the beginning, and the last of Norway’s pre-schism Christian kings, Harald Hardrada, was openly rebuked by Rome for adhering to Eastern traditions. He brought into the Norwegian Church a number of priests and bishops from Novgorod and Gardarike, and also Miklagard (Constantinople), where he had headed the Varangian guard in service of the Byzantine emperor. The first Christian presence in the Americas, then, was not merely Orthodox in the sense of pre-schism, but had strong ties to the cultural and ecclesiastical traditions of the Orthodox East. This fact can clearly be seen in the interiors of the thousand year old Norwegian stave churches that we see today.

With love in Christ,
Abbot Tryphon

(My thanks to Father Kristian, a Norwegian Orthodox priest in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Great Britain, whose writing on the subject I based my blog article. I hope I didn’t get any of the facts incorrect.)


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Prayer Request
Please pray for the safety of Abbess Markella and the nuns of the Monastery of the Life Giving Spring, in Dunlap, CA. They have been evacuated to Fresno, due to wildfires.

Thursday September 10, 2015 / August 28, 2015

15th Week after Pentecost. Tone five.

Venerable Moses the Black of Scete (400).
Uncovering of the relics of Venerable Job of Pochaev (1651).
New Martyrs Archimandrite Sergius (Zaytsev) and monks of Zilantov Monastery of Kazan (1918) hieromonks Laurecnce (Nikitin), Seraphim (Kuz’min), hierodeacon Theodosius (Alexandrov), monks Leontius (Kariagin), Stephen, brothers Gregory (Timofeev), Hylarion (Pravdin), John (Sretensky), Sergius (Galin) (1918).
New Hieromartyr Nicholas priest (1931).
New Hieromartyr Basil priest (1937).
Synaxis of the Saints of the Kiev Caves whose relics repose in the Far Cave of Venerable Theodosius.
Venerable Sabbas, abbot of Krypetsk (1495).
Righteous Anna the Prophetess and Daughter of Phanuel, who met the Lord at the Temple in Jerusalem (1st c.).
Martyr Queen Shushaniki (Susanna) of Georgia (475) (Georgia).
St. Amphilochius, bishop of Vladimir, Volhynia (1122).
Righteous Hezekiah, king of Judah (691 B.C.).
Venerable Theodore (Monk Theodosius of the Kiev Caves), prince of Ostrog (1483).
New Hieromartyr Chrysostom, metropolitan of Smyrna (1922) (Greek).
33 Martyrs of Nicomedia (Greek).
Martyrs Diomedes and Laurence (Greek).

Scripture Readings

Galatians 3:23-4:5

23 But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. 24 Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25 But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.

Sons and Heirs

26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

4 Now I say that the heir, as long as he is a child, does not differ at all from a slave, though he is master of all, 2 but is under guardians and stewards until the time appointed by the father. 3 Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world. 4 But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.

Mark 6:30-45

Feeding the Five Thousand

30 Then the apostles gathered to Jesus and told Him all things, both what they had done and what they had taught. 31 And He said to them, “Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” For there were many coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat. 32 So they departed to a deserted place in the boat by themselves.

33 But the multitudes saw them departing, and many knew Him and ran there on foot from all the cities. They arrived before them and came together to Him. 34 And Jesus, when He came out, saw a great multitude and was moved with compassion for them, because they were like sheep not having a shepherd. So He began to teach them many things. 35 When the day was now far spent, His disciples came to Him and said, “This is a deserted place, and already the hour is late. 36 Send them away, that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy themselves bread; for they have nothing to eat.”

37 But He answered and said to them, “You give them something to eat.”

And they said to Him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give them something to eat?”

38 But He said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.”

And when they found out they said, “Five, and two fish.”

39 Then He commanded them to make them all sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in ranks, in hundreds and in fifties. 41 And when He had taken the five loaves and the two fish, He looked up to heaven, blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to His disciples to set before them; and the two fish He divided among them all. 42 So they all ate and were filled. 43 And they took up twelve baskets full of fragments and of the fish. 44 Now those who had eaten the loaves were about[c] five thousand men.

Jesus Walks on the Sea

45 Immediately He made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while He sent the multitude away.

Abbot Tryphon

About Abbot Tryphon

The Very. Rev. Abbot Tryphon is Igumen of All-Merciful Saviour Monastery on Vashon Island, Washington. Situated in the heart of a beautiful forest, surrounded by the Salish Sea, the monastery is reached by ferry from either Seattle, or Tacoma, Washington.


  1. Thank you for posting this, Father. I know many Orthodox and catechumens in Norway who listen to your podcast regularly and will be greatly encouraged to hear their Orthodox heritage acknowledged by those abroad.

    1. The Norwegian sailors landed on Newfoundland and the house foundations have been found there (L’Anse aux Meadows). It is also speculated that they went as far south as Long Island and New York, with reference to what is written in the Sagas.

    1. St. Brendan was earlier, but it remains to assure that. Have you read St. Brendan’s own story? It has been translated to Norwegian and it is quite convincing.

  2. Interesting and somewhat tangential question: in Orthodox mission to Scandinavia, should our work proceed from a revitalizing of these roots?

  3. Very interesting post, Father. I am very keen on history and enjoy reading and learning all that I can. May I suggest, however, that Leif Erickson was not the first Orthodox Christian to reach North America, but the second; the first being Saint Brendan the Navigator, along with some sixty Irish monks. Evidence of their having been here still exists in up-state New York where bee-hive shaped stone huts, cisterns, and baths can be seen. Ogham writing has been found in the side of a cliff in Virginia and in caves as far west as Colorado, and some of the native languages of the northeastern United States contain several words of Irish Gaelic with the same or similar meaning as that of modern Irish. So, perhaps the blue eyes among the Mandan that Lewis and Clark saw were not the result of Norwegion intermingling, but that of the Irish? We will probably never know for certain but, it is good to know that Orthodox Christians were in North America perhaps as early as 437, long before the genocidal predator, Columbus.

    1. I remember hearing from my brother monks in West Virginia (Holy Cross Monastery), that a monastic compound was discovered near them. Carbon dating on the bones of a European monk found at the site came back with the date 800!

  4. Very interesting, particularly since I am of Norwegian descent on my father’s side and have a nephew named Leif.
    Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, Canada.

  5. Being also of Norwegian descent, this makes me very happy!!! I will be sharing this post with my fellow Scandinavian convert friends! Could you tell us where the churches in the pictures you posted are located? They are beautiful – and as I plan to visit Norway again some day, I’d love to possibly include some of them in my visit. Thank you!

    1. I am also hoping to visit Norway in a year or so, a retired Norwegian doctor friend having invited me to accompany him as he makes one of his annual visits to his homeland. The article I wrote was inspired by an article I read some time ago (can’t remember the source). I’m interested in the historical origins of the Christianity of my ancestors (I’m 49 percent Norwegian, and 29 percent Welsh). Any of my blog readers who come across articles you think would be of interest to me, please forward them on to this old monk: email hidden; JavaScript is required If I think the article will be of interest to my readers, I’ll write an article for posting on The Morning Offering!

    2. There is a book on all stave churches in Norway which I gave to an Orthodox friend in the US some years ago. I will have to look it up, but I wanted to assure you that we Norwegians take great pride in our stave churches.

  6. Father,
    My wife and I have spent a great deal of time in Wales, thanks to making a Russian Orthodox friend there, and have spent many happy hours investigating ancient Orthodox sights. While living there, we attend the Orthodox parish of All Saints Of Wales in Blaenau Ffestiniog. The priest there is also a monk; Father Daniel. He is a wonderfully fascinating man. With your Welsh roots you might be interested in conversing with him.
    Thank you for your blog. It is part of my morning prayer routine.
    Subdeacon John Kennick

  7. I was led to this article by an Orthodox friend in the US. It is correct that the Norwegian stave churches have the layout of Orthodox churches and they are taken good care of in Norway because we Norwegians are very proud of them. I should really wish we as a nation would return to Orthodoxy as the watered down protestantism is not really fulfilling at all. If you wish to be taken around to a few stave churches here, I would be glad to take you into our home and drive you around, as I am on my way to Orthodoxy myself.

  8. Thank you! Being Orthodox and of Norwegian/Swedish decent, this post was especially fascinating. And now, I can see why the depth and beauty of Sigrid Undset’s epic “Kristin Lavransdatter” made such an impact on me! It is very Orthodox at heart.

    Father, are you aware of Fr. Theodor Svane? He will be speaking on “The Orthodox Church in Norway: her saints, history and current situation” at a retreat at Holy Assumption Monastery in October. He would probably be a really good contact for you, if you ever make a trip to Norway. Group trip? 🙂 My husband and I would love to make a pilgrimage!

    I am so looking forward to meeting you – in December, you are doing an Advent Retreat at our parish, St. Barnabas, in California. We will be praying for you, please pray for us. Safe travels!

  9. Where in Scandanavia are these churches located? The wooden architecture of Scandanavian buildings has always reminded me of Slavic wooden churches.

    Also, Valaam—which people are wont to call the “Russian Athos”—is actually an island that lies just of the coast of Finland, at least until the previous century when the Soviets took the Keralia region from Finland.

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