Bishop Joasaph was born as Ivan Ilyich Bolotov on January 22, 1761 in the village of Strazhkov (Kashin district, Tver province), Russia into the family of a local priest. After his initial education at the ecclesiastical school of a monastery in Kashin, he studied at seminaries in Tver and Yaroslavl where he graduated with honors. He then taught for four years at the Uglich ecclesiastical school. During this period, he became convinced of his monastic vocation and was tonsured a monk at the Tolga Monastery in 1786 and given the name Joasaph. He later moved to a monastery in Uglich, and subsequently to Valaam. The dates of his diaconal and priestly ordinations are not known.
Due to his accomplishments in monasticism, he was raised to the rank of archimandrite in 1793 and appointed to head the team of monks being sent to Alaska as missionaries. They arrived in Kodiak, Alaska on September 24, 1794, after a ten-month journey from St. Petersburg. Fr. Joasaph and the other monks were quite successful in their missionary endeavors and baptized countless natives. There were, however, numerous difficulties and abuses caused by the Russian colonists in Alaska, which Fr. Joasaph felt compelled to report to state and church authorities in Russia. This, in part, precipitated the decision of the Holy Synod in 1796 to create an auxiliary episcopal see in Alaska and to elect Fr. Joasaph as Bishop of Kodiak.
Notification of his election to the episcopacy reached Fr. Joasaph only in 1798. He was summoned to Irkutsk, where his episcopal consecration took place on April 10, 1799. Due to the remote and isolated location of this Siberian city, Bishop Benjamin of Irkutsk received exceptional instructions from the Holy Synod to perform the consecration alone. This is the only known case in the entire history of the Russian Church of an episcopal consecration conducted by a single bishop.
While Bishop Joasaph was traveling aboard the ship “Phoenix”;back to Alaska to begin his episcopal ministry, a raging sea storm on May 21-24, 1799 sank the “Phoenix”;near the Alaskan coast and all those aboard perished. Among the lost passengers traveling with Bishop Joasaph were Hieromonk Makary and Hierodeacon Stephan, who had also been among the original Alaskan missionaries, as well as an entourage of sextons and choristers. This shipwreck was not only a serious setback for the Orthodox mission in Alaska, but also a significant loss for the Russian colonies, as the “Phoenix”;was bringing much needed supplies to Kodiak.
Bishop Joasaph’s insightful ethnological studies of Alaska were considered valuable even by secular scholars and were published in 1805.
In 1811, the Holy Synod officially closed the Kodiak episcopal see, and another hierarch would not be appointed to Alaska for almost three decades.
In 1899, in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of Bishop Joasaph’s repose, St. Tikhon, who was then Bishop of the Aleutians and Alaska, praised Bishop Joasaph’s missionary deeds and invoked his name in intercessory prayers.