Matushka Olga Michael, a Yup’ik woman from Kwethluk. (Photo provided by Maxim Gibson)

Matushka Olga Michael, a Yup’ik woman from Kwethluk. (Photo provided by Maxim Gibson)

Living and Growing: A new Alaskan saint

“God is wonderful in His saints: the God of Israel is He who will give power and strength to His people.” So proclaims the Psalmist in Psalm 68:35, and so Christ’s Church continues to proclaim in the veneration of His holy ones who flower forth with the beauty of the life of God in every generation.

This past November, the Orthodox Church in Alaska received the blessed news that another one of her own native flowers has been universally recognized as one of those God-bearing persons: Matushka Olga Michael, a Yup’ik woman from Kwethluk, known by the pious peoples of the Kuskokwim as Arrsamquq.

Matushka Olga was the wife of Archpriest Nicolai Michael, the village postmaster and manager of the general store in Kwethluk. She was the mother of 13 children, eight of whom survived. She was a midwife, and led a quiet life of care for others, known especially for her care for the poor. Though poor herself, she was known for constantly making shoes and clothing for those in need, in her own village and in other more distant villages. She instructed her children to not say anything when they saw others wearing their clothing, as she would often give away her own family’s clothes to those who had need.

In her life, she would frequently be the first to know that a new mother was with child, before even the mother herself knew that she was expecting. She has continued to assist mothers and midwives in childbirth, even after her death.

She was herself a victim of trauma and abuse; and she is known as one who brings comfort and healing to those who have suffered from abuse. In one instance since her repose, she came in a dream to a New York woman who had suffered great abuse and who at the time had no awareness of who Matushka Olga was. In the dream, Matushka Olga invited the woman into her hut, where she worked healing upon her. She then shared tea with her as they observed the Northern Lights flashing in the sky, and Matushka Olga spoke to her: “The moving curtain of light was to be for us a promise that God can create great beauty from complete desolation and nothingness.”

The saints are a testimony to us of God’s goodness from generation to generation: that he always and everywhere wishes to make His abode within the human heart, to make that heart a home for all peoples.

We see this so clearly with Matushka Olga. When the Gospel was first proclaimed to the First Peoples of Alaska by the Russian Orthodox missionaries, it was as fulfillment of the precious culture and way of life of the First Peoples. The Gospel was understood by them as the completion of their own rich natural and spiritual understanding, steeped as it was in deep respect for a Spiritual Being and care for the creation, both spiritual and material. These cultures and peoples readily embraced the revelation of a supreme Spiritual Being as the Triune God, and were baptized and brought into the Church, with the Scriptures, prayers, and hymns expressed in new sonorities through the culture and language of the First Peoples who had received and given themselves to Christ.

As it was with the peoples, so it was and is with each person. Matushka Olga’s skill in midwifery, along with her quiet and kind personal disposition, are the vehicle in which Christ was born and took on flesh in her. Becoming more like Christ in her self-giving love and service to others, she became also more truly herself, more truly a real person, that which all humans are called to be (which is the meaning of the word Yup’ik, just as it is the meaning of Tlingit).

This is the call Christ gives to all people. All are called to be saints, to shine with the light of the glory of the Holy Trinity, to become like to the true man Jesus Christ, in whose image we all are made. As we, like Matushka Olga, say yes to God by saying yes to others, by making our lives into a prayer, God gives His strength and his power for these labors and shows that He is truly wonderful in His saints.

• Maxim Gibson is the rector at St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church in Juneau. “Living & Growing” is a weekly column written by different authors and submitted by local clergy and spiritual leaders. It appears every Saturday on the Juneau Empire’s Faith page.

More in Neighbors

Jackie Renninger Park, which is scheduled to receive structural and safety improvements. (City and Borough of Juneau photo)
Neighbors briefs

See design ideas for Jackie Renninger Park at June 24 public meeting… Continue reading

Students from Juneau Community Charter School listen to a story at the Skagway Public Library. (Photo provided by Clint Sullivan)
Neighbors: Letters of thanks

Thanks to the community of Skagway The K/1 class of Juneau Community… Continue reading

Donna Leigh is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (Courtesy photo)
Living and Growing: Small things

Have you ever had a small pebble in your shoe? Very irritating,… Continue reading

Matushka Olga Michael, a Yup’ik woman from Kwethluk. (Photo provided by Maxim Gibson)
Living and Growing: A new Alaskan saint

“God is wonderful in His saints: the God of Israel is He… Continue reading

Dining out in Croatia. (Photo by Patty Schied)
Cooking for Pleasure: Almond cake from a trip to Croatia

I should have probably titled this week’s column: “Eating For Pleasure.” My… Continue reading

Nick Hanson of the NBC show “American Ninja Warrior” kicks off the blanket toss at the 2020 Traditional Games in Juneau. (Lyndsey Brollini / Sealaska Heritage Institute)
Neighbors: Celebration begins Wednesday with mix of traditional and new events

Nearly 1,600 dancers from 36 dance groups scheduled to participate in four-day gathering.

“Curiosities of Alaska” by Junnie Chup, which won first place in Kindred Post’s 2024 statewide postcard art contest. (Photo courtesy of Kindred Post)
Neighbors briefs

Kindred Post announces 2024 statewide postcard art contest winners Kindred Post on… Continue reading

Tanya Renee Ahtowena Rorem at age 17. (Photo provided by Laura Rorem)
Living and Growing: ‘My name is Ahtowena’

My precocious two-year old broke loose from my grip and took off… Continue reading

The Pinkas Synagogue, the second-oldest building in Prague. (World Monuments Fund photo)
Living and Growing: Connecting to family ancestors through names of strangers on a wall in Prague

“Prague never lets you go…this dear little mother has sharp claws.” —… Continue reading

Individual eggplant parmesan rounds ready to serve. (Photo by Patty Schied)
Cooking for Pleasure: Individual eggplant parmesan rounds

These flavorful eggplant parmesans are a great side dish, especially served with… Continue reading

An aspiring knight relies on duct tape for his medieval battle gear during the Master’s Faire on July 16, 2022. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire file photo)
Gimme A Smile: Duct tape — an Alaskan’s best friend

Duct tape is an Alaskan tradition. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix… Continue reading