Blessed Olga of Alaska, Patron Saint of Midwives and Healer of the Abused and Broken

Recently, our catalogue received an order for two hand-painted icons of Olga of Alaska. When we accepted the order, we did not know much about this 20th-century saint. We did our research, and are excited to share with you the details of her righteous life and the miracles attributed to her.

Orthodoxy has been around in Alaska since the 18th century. It was brought here by a mission of the Russian Orthodox Church. The mission’s monks preached among the local indigenous people and translated the Scripture and liturgical texts into the local languages, bringing many to Christ and educating the local clergy.  Some prominent preachers of Christianity in Alaska were Holy Venerable Herman of Alaska and Bishop Innocent. At the end of the 19th century, Russia sold Alaska to the United States, and gradually, Protestant missions came to prevail in this land. However, Orthodox life has continued there to the present day, with around ninety active Orthodox parishes.

On 3 February 1916, a girl named Arrsamquq was born into an indigenous Alaskan family of Yupik origin. The presence of the Russian mission in her community helped spread the faith among the local people, and she was among the first to be baptised as an infant. At baptism, she accepted the name Olga. From a very young age, she lived with the love of God. She was hard-working and prayed a lot for her family and her fellow villagers. By her teenage years, she already knew multiple liturgical texts and hymns in the church Slavonic and Yupik languages.

She married a man from her village. It was an arranged marriage. Her husband was adept at fishing and hunting. He established a general store and opened the first post office in his village. However, he was not a particularly churchly man. During the first years of their marriage, they had a troubled relationship filled with strife and arguments. But Olga did not despair. Instead, she prayed vehemently for her husband and her non-believing neighbours. Through her prayers, After a time, her husband — baptised with the name Nicolay — began to attend church. He brought six other men from the village with him. They all became readers. Nicolay Michael went on to study at so called “Aleut School”, similar to those that were founded by Saint Innocent with the support of the Russian Missionary Society, in Sitka. He studied under the direction of Bishop Amvrossy (Merejko). After graduation, he was ordained into the priesthood. From 1963, he was a priest for Kwetluk. He was the second priest in his village Kwetluk and became greatly beloved by his people. Incidentally, throughout the lifetime of Saint Olga, the great majority of the students who went this School came from her tiny village.

The couple’s married life changed significantly after Nicolai’s ordination. As a priest, Nicolai Michael travelled extensively to twelve surrounding villages to conduct services and occasional offices. Travel between the villages was done on rivers, by boat in the summer or by snow machines or dog-driven sledges in the winter. Matushka Olga, who was the only able midwife around, accompanied her husband to assist the women in childbirth and ailments. Olga gave birth to thirteen of her children without a midwife. Five of them did not survive to adulthood because of illness and a harsh climate.

Matushka Olga Michael worked hard keeping house, raising children, making vestments and baking prosphoras. Despite her busy schedule, she would also go to the homes of others to cook and clean for them. With word and deed, Olga showed people the example of Christian life according to Lord’s commandments. Not only did she help others with their housekeeping, but she also made boots, parkas, socks and mittens to distribute among the parishioners. For her acts of charity, she was nicknamed the new righteous Tabitha. She was particularly mindful of the troubled women who suffered from domestic violence. She would often ask women in her village to take a steam bath with her, where they could not hide the physical and spiritual scars of the abuse done to them. She counselled the women and said words of reassurance to each. Her compassion and sensitivity struck many as if she had lived through the same situation in her life.

As she was growing older, her daughters were assuming more of her workload. The hard-working Matushka Olga had more time to travel with her husband, help the people from the surrounding villages and teach midwifery skills to younger women.

Eventually, however, Matushka Olga began to feel weak and ill and lose weight. Her concerned family persuaded her to go to hospital. The specialists there diagnosed terminal cancer which they said was beyond treatment. Her children received the news with much grief and prayed vehemently at the local holy places. As for the Matushka, was not resigned to her bed rest. While her daughters were away, she continued to go outside, hauling buckets of water from the village well.

In the last days of her life, she prayed a lot and left her last instructions to her family in preparation for her peaceful repose. On 8 November 1979, she partook of the Holy Sacraments, crossed herself and departed peacefully to God. She was buried in her wedding gown, which she had kept throughout her life.

Her death coincided with the feast day of Archangel Michael (the Old Calendar) whom she revered. The people from her village remembered her standing under the icon of Archangel Michael at church.

The Church of Saint Nicholas in Nicholas in Kwetluk
The icon of Archangel Michael at the church

The first miracle attributed to her was reported on the day of the saint’s interment. In Alaska, the month of November is the height of the winter season. By the time of her death, the rivers had already frozen over to preclude travel by boat, but the ice was still not strong enough to support a snow machine. Many people lamented not being able to bid their last farewells to their beloved Matushka. The Lord heard their prayers. On the day of her funeral, there was a thaw. The ice on the river melted, enabling many people to come to Kwetluk by boat to attend her funeral. As her body was being carried to the grave, summer birds were hovering over the procession. Even the soil in the graveyard had softened. On the next day, the cold weather returned and ice covered the river. Winter was back.

She also continued to intercede for needy women. A woman from her village saw the Matushka in her dream. She told her that her mother had a terminal illness and reassured her that her mother was departing to heaven. The woman saw her mother before her death and helped her prepare for her peaceful repose.

A woman who suffered from the trauma of sexual abuse reported another miracle with Matushka Olga. One day as she was praying, she began to have an intense flashback of her sexual abuse as a child. She pleaded with the Mother of God for her help. Little by little, she went into a trance and saw herself walking in a forest. A gentle wave of tenderness began to sweep through the woods followed by a fresh garden scent. She saw the Virgin Mary, dressed as she was in an icon, but more natural-looking and brighter, walking toward her. As she came closer she was aware of someone walking behind her. She was one of the indigenous people of the North. The Mother of God said that it was Saint Olga. Saint Olga gestured for the woman to follow her to a little hill that had a door cut into the side. Mother Olga helped her up on a bed and rubbed something on her belly. It looked five months pregnant (although she was not pregnant in reality). Mother Olga pretended to labour with her. She pushed out something like an afterbirth, and she was filled with wellness and a sense of quiet entered her soul. As the woman recalled, Saint Olga’s eyes spoke with great tenderness and understanding. It was the kind of loving gaze from a mother to an infant that connects and welcomes a baby to life. Only after this did Holy Mother Olga speak. “The people who hurt you thought they could make me carry their evil inside of you by rape. That’s a lie. The only thing they could put inside you was the seed of life which is a creation of God and cannot pollute anyone.” At the end of this healing time, they went outside together. The sky was all shimmer with a moving veil of light. At that moment, the woman heard in her heart that this moving curtain of light was a promise that God can create great beauty from complete desolation and nothingness.

Two icons of Saint Olga by the iconographers of Saint Elisabeth Convent

With this wondrous moving curtain of light, Saint Olga O Michael, a humble Matushka from Alaska has illuminated the lives of the people around her. In the first lines of her Akathist, we read: “The God who makes the moving curtain of the northern lights made you as a living light, shining in the far north and lighting up the desolate with His great beauty. Beholding this radiance, we, your children, lift up our voices and sing.” Although this locally revered saint still awaits her official canonisation, we still invoke her prayers for the healing and reassurance of every pious woman, midwife and everyone in need.

About the author

Anastasia Parkhomchik,
Literary editor and Orthodox journalist, member of The Catalog of Good Deeds team.

Comments

  1. Thank you for your story of Blessed Olga. Her daughter and husband attended St. Herman Seminary here in Kodiak some years ago, and I am Blessed to be holding the first wariten icon of Blessed Olga before many knew of her presence.

    Also, just small note…Orthodoxy was here years before the missionaries arrived by virtue of the fur hunters, rough as they were, they were Orthodox, and taking indigenous women for wives without benefit of Christian marriage, this is how Natalia Shelikov requested a priest to come to legitimize these common marriages. You know the rest of the story.

    I am Rosabel (Raisa) Morrison Baldwin, Starosta, now retired, at Holy Resurrection Cathedral, for 35 years. Family also descended from original Russian/native settlers. I do follow your stories and appreciate the educational stories you print. Thank you.

  2. Forgive me please..
    Rosabel (Raisa) Baldwin again.
    I don’t mean to be forward or aggressive, but in re-reading the story, I felt something needed correcting.
    It was Blessed Olga’s daughter and husband who attended St Herman Seminary. I became friends with the daughter, who is a very loving and giving person. It was a pleasure sharing with her, and she was always there to help with chores in the church and seminary.
    I hope this doesn’t upset the narrative too much, as who know who will be our next saint? God smiles on us as it is said by the elders, that God created this country for himself, and put it way up north so no one would find it. We are all called to be saints. Thank you again, for your inspiring publication.
    (I think the spell check changed my word ‘writing’ somehow.)

    1. “God smiles on us as it is said by the elders, that God created this country for himself, and put it way up north so no one would find it.” Which elders said it?

      1. In reply to your question ‘Which elders said it” means that it was something that was part of the traditional belief of the creation of this land. No one particular person is responsible for this, as it is something that has been shared for generations. I have traveled a lot, and find, and agree with the traditional belief, that Alaska has something special about it that I find nowhere else. And Alaska has brought forth saints, many of which we are still unaware of, but are only known to God at this time.
        I hope I have answered your question ….

  3. Dear Rosabel (Raisa) Morrison Baldwin,

    Its rare to meet another Baldwin (we have some Baldwyns in my area). And certainly rare to meet an Orthodox Christian named Baldwin. I am an OCA priest serving in The Diocese of the South. Its unlikely that our last names make us related, most of my folks are in Indiana, with a few in Arkansas. However, I wanted to say hi at least!

  4. There are some clarifications to make on this article. The Archpriest Nicolai O. Michael, the husband of Arrsamquq, never attended St. Herman’s Seminary as it was established in the early 1970s, and he wasn’t the first priest of Kwethluk. Before him, Archpriest Nicolai Epchook was the first priest of the village from the mid-1920s until 1962 when he passed away. Fr. Nicolai Michael, who was a reader then, was sent to Sitka, Alaska and studied under the direction of Bishop Amvrossy (Merejko?) and was ordained a deacon and a priest within a year. From 1963, he was a priest for Kwethluk and passed away from cancer on May 15, 1985.
    Matushka Olga’s death is on the day of the Great Martyr Demetrius, as we still follow the Old Calendar. The Archangel Michael and the other angels are on November 21.

    1. Dear Father Martin, thank you a lot for the clarification, we have improved the article.

  5. Happy to meet you Fr. Alexis..which also happens to be our new Bishop, His Grace Alexis…
    My husband, of memory, was from Illinois, and I returned to my home in Kodiak to enjoy life here.
    I was Starosta at Holy Resurrection Cathedral here for 35 years, bell ringer, and now retired and enjoy the services in the St. Herman Seminary Chapel here.
    Please keep in touch…
    Raisa….

  6. Thank you Father Martin, for making some of the necessary corrections to the life story of Fr. Nikolai and Matushka Olga. In reading the article, I too wanted to cite some corrections, but am happy that you did so first. And although most of the OCA parishes now follow the new calendar, the Diocese of Alaska has always, and still remains, in celebration of the old style calendar dates. I will share with other readers that we are humbled and honored that two of our children bear the Yup’ik names of Fr. Nikolai and Mat. Olga—they are blessed with the memory of them both.

    I might add that one of their daughters and her husband attended St. Herman Seminary, but she was not the first. An older sister was at the Seminary earlier when we were all there.

  7. Thank you for this lovely article. Your new icon of St. Olga is very good. The upraised eyebrows are a way people greet each other in this part of Alaska. It means hi and good to see you. Most of the year it is very cold. People are muffled up so eyebrows are about the only thing you can see. The other icon of her in a blue dress was made by me many years ago. I think it is still in the Ortodox Cathedral in Anchorage.

    1. If I may, your comment about raised eyebrows made me chuckle. Many ‘oursiders’ don’t understand that we do communicate silently with our faces, as Fr. Peter Kreta, of Blessed Memory, found out at seminary class that he was teaching.
      Asking a student a question, she replied. He did not hear an answer, so he asked again. Still no verbal answer. Someone told him she did answer, by raising her eyebrows, to say yes to his question. Everyone had a good laugh at his ‘lesson’ learned that day.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Know everything about Orthodoxy? We can tell you a bit more!

Subscribe for our weekly newsletter not to miss the most interesting articles on our blog.

Spelling error report

The following text will be sent to our editors: