NATIVE AMERICANS MET ORTHODOXY
Saint Matushka Olga Michael of Alaska (+1979)
Archpriest Nicolai O Michael (1912-1984) and Saint Matushka Olga Michael of Alaska (1916-1979)
Notes about the lives of the Archpriest Nicolai O Michael and his wife, Matushka Olga (Arrsamquq) Michael, are presented in the context of Canadian Orthodox biographies, even though neither of them had any direct personal contact with Canada. Nevertheless, details of their lives parallel those of many of the Orthodox Canadian clergy of the earlier part of the 20th century. More importantly, the presenting of their lives can help us to understand how the Lord works in different ways with two Christ-loving and Christ-serving people, in order to help, encourage and console others. In this case, the Lord seems to have extended Matushka Olga’s loving service and care for others far beyond her own village, in ways which convince many people that she is truly holy, truly a saint. The “Canadian connexion” in this regard concerns the many Canadians who are certain that “Mother Olga” is praying for them, and that as a result, help and healing have come from the Lord.
Nicolai O Michael
Nicolai O Michael was born in the village of Kwethluk in Alaska, USA, on 24 August, 1912. The available details of his life were written by his grand-daughter, Olga (Michael) McGill. Kwethluk is located at the confluence of the Kuskokwim and Kwethluk rivers in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. The constantly changing channel of the river gives the village its name. “Kwethluk” is derived from the Yup’ik words “kuik”, meaning “river”, and “-rrluk”, meaning “bad, unnatural”. “Nicolai”, writes his grand-daughter, “was a very caring person, and well known throughout the delta. He loved to fish and hunt. He also herded reindeer, which were used both as pack animals and as food for the community”.
Marriage ; seminary ; parish service
Nicolai married his wife, Olga (Arrsamquq), who was often called “Olinka”, an affectionate Russian form of her name. This marriage was an arranged marriage ; and at the beginning, communication between the two was difficult. Nicolai was not yet a particularly “churchly” man. Together, they received from the Lord 13 children, of whom only 8 survived to adulthood. His grand-daughter wrote that he was a strict father. Earlier in his life, Nicolai started the first US Post Office and General Store in Kwethluk, where he was the manager. All along, Olga was praying for her husband. After a time, he began to attend church, and he and 6 other village men became church readers. They then attended Saint Herman’s Seminary in Kodiak, and all but one were then ordained to the Holy Priesthood. Very many of the former Russian and American clergy had by this time left their parishes, and the parish-circuits remained vacant for a long time. It is useful to understand that it was the pressing and particular local need that caused the establishment of Saint Herman’s Seminary in 1972. This process of depletion had begun with the sale of Alaska to the USA, and it was increased by pressures from the strongly-Protestant-minded government which followed. It was just after the transfer of Bishop Theodosius (Lazor) from the diocese that the Archpriest Joseph Kreta made the proposal to establish the seminary, and that this proposal was blessed by the Holy Synod of Bishops of The Orthodox Church in America.
Father Nicolai was the very first priest in the village of Kwethluk, and when he returned to serve Kwethluk, he became greatly beloved by the people. It is important to understand that before she became a matushka, Olga was continuously praying for a long time for her husband and for her village. During her lifetime, 85 percent of the students (7 of 8) who went to Saint Herman’s Seminary came from Blessed Olga’s tiny village, Kwethluk, which had a Continue reading “Saint Matushka Olga Michael of Alaska (+1979)”