Shoes of church's bellringer hard to fill

Posted: Monday, May 12, 2003

SITKA - Sunday mornings won't sound the same after Sasha Hartman moves away this week.

For the last two and a half years, Hartman has been the bell- ringer at St. Michael's Cathedral. But Hartman is moving to Spruce Island near Kodiak. The Orthodox church has yet to find a replacement.

Five of the church's eight bells must be rung from inside the belfry itself - up two sets of wooden stairs and a ladder.

"I don't like to climb up (the bell tower) myself," said Archpriest John Zabinko. "And Sasha just has a natural ability."

On Orthodox Easter April 27 Hartman climbed up and, surrounded by a breathtaking 360-degree view, he concentrated on pulling the web of ropes for his final Easter bellringing for Sitka.

Hartman said he first began ringing church bells about nine years ago at Holy Resurrection Church in Kodiak. He kept up the practice after moving to Sitka.

"Father just asked me if I wanted to ring the bells or something, and I actually like ringing them," Hartman said.

St. Michael's is unlike most churches where the bells can be rung from below. Only three of the eight bells can be pulled from a rope inside the cathedral. But the sound is much weaker than when Hartman does his work from 30 feet up, 15 minutes before Sunday's 10 a.m. services.

St. Michael's bells are of different sizes and create a myriad pitches and volumes. All the bells contain some of the metal from the bells of the original St. Michael's, which burned in 1966, Zabinko said.

Hartman said the number of bells is unusual among churches he has attended. Most other houses of worship have only three bells in their belfries.

Hartman rings the bells by pulling on a set of interconnected ropes in the tower, keeping his back to the largest and loudest central bell as protection against the noise.

"You just go with the flow," Hartman said, adding that he usually falls into a similar pattern every time, ending with three tolls of the largest bell.

Hartman said he would like to take up bellringing in Kodiak, but he said it won't be the same as being up in the bell tower at St. Michael's.

"It's pretty nice in that I get to go up in the bell tower and have that great view," he said. "I get to see people go by down on the street, and it's always nice to see smiles on their faces, especially the tourists."

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