St. Olga of Alaska

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As we launch our fundraising season, we will be highlighting female saints in whose company we walk. For our second companion, we’ve chosen Arrsamquq–Matushka Olga–whose loving service and care for people in distress extended far beyond her own village in Alaska.

Matushka Olga Michael, wife of the departed Archpriest Nikolai O. Michael from the village of Kwethluk in Alaska, was born in the Yup’ik tribe and given the name Arrsamquq. Though Olga was poor, she shared her family’s food and possessions generously with others and seemed to intuitively predict which children were hungry or needed clothing, which children or women were suffering abuse, and when women were pregnant and needed extra care. Her children recall sometimes seeing other children wearing their clothing, which Matushka Olga had given away. Occasionally, she would place food in her window in order for it to be “stolen”, knowing that a particularly hungry child was walking by.

“She was constantly sewing or knitting socks or fur outerwear for others,” Fr. Oleksa, another local priest, writes. “Hardly a friend or neighbor was without something Matushka had made for them. Parishes hundreds of miles away received unsolicited gifts, traditional winter boots ('mukluks') to sell or raffle for their building fund. All the clergy of the deanery wore gloves or woolen socks ... [which she] had made for them" (p. 203). 

Matushka Olga was also a midwife and had a particular gift for caring for abused women. She would invite women into the privacy of a traditional Yup’ik steam bath, creating a space for intimate conversation. Many recount that during these vulnerable times together, Olga would extend them deep kindness, healing and lifting grief and shame. Perhaps this is because she too knew grief well: she gave birth to 13 children, but only 8 survived to adulthood.

After miraculously surviving an initial diagnosis with cancer, Matushka Olga passed away November 8, 1979 with great courage and faith. A proclamation by The Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America on November 9, 2023, glorified her as the first female Saint of North America. 

Matushka Olga is considered a patron for sexual abuse victims, women who have suffered miscarriages, and expecting mothers, continuing her work of, as her icon says, "creating beauty from complete desolation and nothingness." Even after her death, many have reported visions of her, visits bringing healing and dispelling particular areas of grief or darkness.

St. Olga’s life work was to bless and protect her community as they walked the pilgrimage of their lives. And every day in churches and communities across the world, women like you are following in the footsteps of Matushka Olga, supporting and blessing one another. 

In 2024, we want to nourish even more opportunities for us to walk together in body as well as spirit. We invite you to join us on this pilgrimage to build Axia as we walk in the company of Orthodox women past and present, raising up one another’s gifts for the well-being of the whole Church.

This icon was painted by Heather MacKean.

Ps: To celebrate St. Olga’s glorification and as a thank you for your generous support, we’re giving away Axia-designed icon stickers to anyone who donates $50 or more during our end-of-year fundraiser! 

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